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Aberdeen movie fans launching £2m plans to bring Belmont Cinema back to life

The news comes almost a year after the cherished institution's shock closure.

Belmont Cinema
Belmont Community Cinema chairman Jacob Campbell and director Dallas King outside Belmont Filmhouse. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

A group of film fans and business brains who share their passion have been announced as the preferred operator of a revived Belmont Cinema.

Almost a year on from its closure, confidential talks took place about the Aberdeen institution at a council meeting today.

The local authority decided to place the future of the venue in the hands of the recently formed Belmont Community Cinema Ltd.

Staff leaving the Belmont Cinema as locks were changed by administrators. Image: Chris Sumner/ DC Thomson

Who are the new Belmont Filmhouse operators?

The organisation is made up of former Belmont boss Dallas King, film buff Jacob Campbell and various other local experts with a love of cinema.

They want to run it as an independent, not-for-profit enterprise.

Jacob and Dallas spent an anxious morning in Starbuck’s as they waited for word from the behind-closed-doors council meeting.

Breathing a sigh of relief after the talks, Jacob told The P&J there is “a long road ahead” but they are determined to take the filmhouse to the next level and secure its future.

And he hopes this will also help boost Belmont Street and surrounding businesses.

Dallas added: “It’s about looking at the positive stories – and this is one of them.

“This is the green light to advance the next stages but we have to make sure that the cinema is brought back in a way that it can remain open for future generations.

“I know a lot of people have had to travel to Glasgow or Dundee to watch independent films this last year, and they shouldn’t have to do that.

“Now we have the opportunity to run the cinema from Aberdeen for Aberdeen, and engage with the community and listen to them.”

Craig Thom announced his plans last year. Image: Kenny Elrick / DC Thomson.

Other directors include the chief executive of Aberdeen’s Instant Neighbour charity, Sophy Green, business consultant Keith Massie, retired academic administrator Gwen Smith, chartered accountant Chris Oliver and former filmmaker Timothy Baker.

Most were regular attendees of the Belmont.

The owner of Aberdeen cafe Faffless, Craig Thom, had also put forward a bid to run the relaunched cinema.

Though disappointed, he told the Press and Journal he would be happy to help the newly announced preferred operators.

So what happens next?

Now, Belmont Community Cinema Ltd will be given an “exclusivity period” agreement to undertake fundraising and finalise their redevelopment plans.

If this goes well, the group will be granted a long-term operators lease.

The building is likely to be brought back to life with a restaurant and bar in the basement – with a food offering deemed “central” to its success.

Jacob Campbell spearheaded the Save The Belmont Cinema campaign, which took off just hours after the doors were slammed shut. Image: Paul Glendell / DC Thomson

And they are already in discussions with an architect and local suppliers to make all of this happen.

The preliminary price tag on the project is £2 million.

“Ecstatic” about this major step forward, Jacob said: “The project is bigger than the cinema itself – it’s about the rejuvenation of the city centre and bringing people back.

“Aberdeen is not where it should be right now, and the Belmont is one of the cornerstones of culture in the city.

“But we’ve got a good community around us, we have a lot of people who want to see this succeed so there is nothing we can’t do.”

Dallas King thinks this would be a new era for cinema buffs in Aberdeen. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

How could new Belmont Filmhouse operators make cinema a success in tough climate?

The Belmont Filmhouse closed on October 6, 2022, after struggling to regain audiences following the pandemic.

Rising costs made matters worse, and cost the 20 employees their jobs.

Its sister venue in Edinburgh met the same fate when parent company The Centre
for the Moving Image went into administration.

Belmont Filmhouse operators
The whirr of the projector went silent last October. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Taking it on, and turning it into a success, sounds like the sort of against-the-odds story all too common in Hollywood.

But the campaigners have several ideas on how to bring in extra cash.

The revamped kitchen would be crucial, turning a night at the pictures into more of an experience.

One of the key things will be forming a partnership with local suppliers, which could offer refreshments on site.

Shortly before the cinema closed, it hosted a pop-up restaurant. Image: Julia Bryce/DC Thomson

‘It needs a bit of TLC’

Another idea would be selling seats to individual super-fans, who could have their own place with a name plaque on it.

They’ve also been taking lessons from independent venues like Peterhead’s Arc Cinema and the Montrose Playhouse.

Dallas said: “The Belmont will offer something different to the other multiplexes which show the same six or seven films.”

Scores of people packed into the Blue Lamp for an update on the plans in March. Image: Paul Glendell / DC Thomson

But the critic and podcaster acknowledged that it could do with a bit of a makeover, having last been done up more than 20 years ago.

He continued: “It needs a bit of TLC to bring it up to a level where it’s an inviting customer experience for everyone. But we’ll get there.

“Part of it is making sure that we make people feel involved in the process. Because it’s not just our small group – it’s for the whole of Aberdeen and everyone who loves film.”

Could next Spielberg be discovered in Aberdeen?

Another public meeting will take place next month, where supporters can learn more about the new Belmont Filmhouse operators’ hopes for the cinema.

They add that an “integral” part of their vision will be working alongside Tillydrone’s Station House Media Unit.

The charity will provide “an exciting education and filmmaking programme to help nurture and develop the next generation of filmmakers”.

When the cinema shut, staff left a heartfelt thank you message outside. Image: Craig Munro/DC Thomson

Back to the movies!

Aberdeen City Council owns the building but it’s been in the hands of administrators since it shut.

Never one to pass up the chance to make a movie reference, Mr King celebrated by posting a pair of Godfather gifs on social media site X, formerly Twitter.

He joked that the group “made the council an offer they couldn’t refuse”, and shared Al Pacino’s famous line: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in”.

Read more about the campaigners’ public meeting in March here.

And click here for how industry experts say the Belmont Filmhouse could be a success under new operators.