LOTHIAN Road just doesn’t feel like Lothian Road any more. The demise of Edinburgh Filmhouse has left a gap not just in the physical fabric of the street, but in the emotional fabric too. For those of us who spent too much time hanging out in the Filmhouse cafe or watching obscure French movies on one of the cinema’s two smaller screens, its absence feels like someone has taken away a room in our own house. To walk down Lothian Road now is to be constantly reminded of what we have lost.

The coronavirus pandemic has posed an existential threat to cinema. It’s worth remembering that Filmhouse wasn’t the only independent cinema that went under when its parent company entered administration last October. The Belmont cinema in Aberdeen also disappeared.

In the circumstances, now more than ever, we need to celebrate and embrace the nation’s independent cinemas, where blockbusters and smaller films both find a home. Whether it’s the Macrobert in Stirling or the DCA in Dundee, arthouse cinemas are vital local resources in an age when streaming feels like it is taking over. Because it is not the same seeing the latest Steven Spielberg or Celine Sciamma movie in your living room as it is in a cinema – no matter how big your telly.


Here are 10 independent cinemas movie-lovers should go out of their way to visit.

Glasgow Film Theatre, Glasgow

The first and still the best? Last month the Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT) screened Mark Jenkin’s strangely beautiful (or is it beautifully strange) folk horror head-scratcher Enys Men to a full house in GFT1 with the director in attendance. It was a marker for Glasgow’s love of cinema in all its weird variety. The GFT has been providing that variety (weird and not) since 1939 when it originally opened as The Cosmo. Renamed in 1974, it has been a key part of Glasgow’s cultural life and audiences have remained loyal even in the wake of Covid lockdowns. The cinema is also home to the Glasgow Film Festival, which kicks off on March 1 and will be the venue for the opening film, Girl, which is set in the city.


Highland Cinema, Fort William

From the oldest to one of the newest. Highland Cinema in Fort William opened in September 2020 in Cameron Square in the town centre. The brainchild of local businessman Angus MacDonald, it’s a handsome modern cinema designed by architectural practice Dualchas. It has two state-of-the-art theatres – seating 109 and 62 customers, respectively – showing the latest releases. It also has a great, dog-friendly cafe-bar that’s a destination in itself. To pay a visit is to find a cinema that has already become a gathering place for the town and the wider Lochaber region.


Dominion Cinema, Edinburgh

Despite the loss of the Filmhouse, Edinburgh is not, thankfully, a cinematic wasteland. Cineworld aside, the capital also offers the Cameo Picturehouse in Home Street and, of course, the Dominion in Morningside. Like Perth Playhouse, the latter is another example of the interwar “moderne” style picture palace, but, as Owen Hatherley has noted in his epic gazetteer Modern Buildings in Britain (Particular Books, 2021), the Dominion has “survived unusually well”. The family-run cinema has survived the Covid lockdown and claims to offer some of the most luxurious seats in town. Now that’s a selling point.


Hippodrome Cinema, Bo’ness

Designed by local architect Matt Steele, the Hippodrome originally opened in 1912 (it’s the oldest surviving purpose-built cinema in the country). When it reopened after extensive renovation in 2009, the Hippodrome was revealed to be a little jewel box of a building that is worth a visit in itself, no matter what’s showing.

Yet it is also a wonderful example of an independent cinema serving its local community with a programme of new releases and special events (The Fabelmans is currently showing, with a National Theatre Live presentation of Othello scheduled for Thursday).

But, it has also makes a wider mark with its annual silent film festival – Scotland’s only such festival – every March. This year’s event opens with a screening of Maurice Tourneur’s 1928 fantasy The Blue Bird on March 22, with a specially commissioned soundtrack from Sonic Bothy.

There will also be screenings of Mikhail Kaufman’s 1929 love letter to Kyiv, In Spring, which will be accompanied by contemporary Ukrainian musicians Roksana Smirnova and Misha Kalinin, and Where the North Begins, featuring canine superstar Rin Tin Tin (John Sweeney will play live musical accompaniment on piano). If you still haven’t visited, there’s only one question to ask. Why not?


Screen Machine, touring

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Screen Machine is an 80-seat, air-conditioned cinema. On wheels. Since 1998, it has been touring the Highlands and Islands bringing cinema to local communities (there have been two vehicles in that time). A digital mobile movie house is a quirky, fun idea but it works because it doesn’t compromise on the cinematic experience itself. Next month Screen Machine travels to Tobermory (March 3-5), Millport (March 8), Brodick (March 9-12) and Port Ellen (March 16-18). Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, Avatar: The Way of the Water and Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody are among the films being screened next month.


Birks Cinema, Aberfeldy

As recently as 2005 the Birks cinema in Aberfeldy was a derelict building with a “For Sale” sign attached. Local residents rallied to form the Friends of The Birks Cinema charity. That it would cost nearly £2 million to restore the cinema didn’t daunt them and a mixture of government funds, private donations, fundraising and lottery money allowed the cinema to reopen in 2013, with Alan Cumming as its patron.

The Friends of The Birks Cinema evolved into The Birks Cinema Trust who run the cinema now. Thankfully, Covid hasn’t derailed it and the cinema continues to show new releases and special events. Look out for upcoming morning “relaxed screenings” of Guys and Dolls (March 3) and Easter Parade (April 7).


Campbeltown Picture House, Campbeltown

Like the Hippodrome, another restoration that was clearly a labour of love. Originally built in 1913 with a Glasgow School art nouveau exterior, it was restored in 2017 with a second screen, new foyer and cafe, though the interior – dating to 1935 when the cinema was remodelled by original architect Albert V Gardner – is largely unchanged.

Owned by the charity Campbeltown Community Business Ltd and managed by a volunteer board, it’s a welcoming outpost for movie lovers in Argyll. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Magic Mike’s Last Dance are currently showing, but there’s a charity screening of Colm Bairead’s gorgeous, heart-swelling The Quiet Girl – the first Irish language film to be nominated for an Oscar – next Saturday as part of the cinema’s Cans Film Festival.


Newton Stewart Cinema, Newton Stewart

On our must-visit list, Newton Stewart Cinema is a community-run, not-for-profit art deco cinema which screens the latest releases and an intriguing mix of repertory titles (you can catch Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic Blade Runner on Monday evening). It has a small role in cinema history in being one of two cinemas (the other being the now demolished Regal Cinema in Stranraer) to hold the world premiere of Robin Hardy’s cult classic The Wicker Man (much of the movie was filmed locally).


Mareel, Lerwick

The most northerly movie house in the UK, Mareel has been named one of the 50 most beautiful cinemas in the world by Time Out. No wonder. Sitting on the water’s edge in Lerwick, overlooking the Bressay Sound, it’s a reminder that impressive movie architecture didn’t end in the 20th century. Opened in 2012, it was designed by Hoskins Architects and is home to two cinemas, an auditorium for live performance (John Doyle, John McCusker and Mike McGoldrick are playing there next Saturday) and a really impressive cafe. Mareel is also home to Screenplay, the annual film festival directed by Kathy Hubbard alongside film critic Mark Kermode and Professor Linda Ruth Williams. This year’s festival runs from August 29 to September 3.


Oban Phoenix Cinema, Oban

With apologies to West Side Cinema in Stromness, New Picture House in St Andrews and the many other fine indy cinemas we hadn’t room to include, our list finishes in Oban. The Oban Phoenix Cinema has an appropriate name given that its story is one of resurrection. In 2010 the Highland Theatre closed in the town, leaving movie lovers with a 100mile journey to the nearest cinema. That prompted locals to band together to collectively buy the old cinema building which reopened in 2012. A community enterprise, it’s a registered charity with a volunteer board. A reminder that cinema is nothing without people.