The closed Edinburgh cinema costing £20,000 a month to run

By Angie Brown
BBC Scotland News

Image caption,
BBC Scotland had a peek inside to find out from the usually very private family owners what it takes to operate an empty cinema

The historic Dominion, which is one of the oldest cinemas in Scotland, has been closed for the past seven months.

It is the longest it has ever been shut in its 82 year history and its emptiness and dark windows sit in stark contrast to the normally vibrant family-run cinema in Edinburgh.

However, little do passers-by know that despite its lights being out, it is still costing £20,000 a month to run.

BBC Scotland had a peek inside to find out from the usually very private family owners what it takes to operate an empty cinema.

Lesley Cameron, who is a co-owner of the Morningside cinema with her two brothers, said she was sad and anxious at the situation they had found themselves in.

"We are really struggling and have had no grants. We need help.

"There is a lot of expenditure to run a cinema which we don't normally talk about and we have already spent more than £100,000 since May just sitting still."

Image source, Dominion Cinema
Image caption,
The cinema is in the Morningside area of Edinburgh

Heating bills so the four-screen cinema does not get damp, water rates, insurance, monthly servicing projector costs, card reader machine contracts, IT costs and staff tax and national insurance have all contributed to the huge monthly outgoings.

Mrs Cameron said: "You can't imagine all the costs that are involved for example when the old girl was shut down things were working but now we are finding little IT things that are going wrong and we are having to get them fixed.

"We have also had to soak the cinema in heat so it doesn't get damp.

"We have kept trying to reopen but every time the distributers have pulled the films so we have had no product to show."

Image caption,
Screens have been installed between the chairs at the Dominion Cinema

She said they have stopped short from putting it into "full hibernation" because it would take too long to reboot again if they were suddenly able to reopen.

She said: "We have been trying to keep the cinema alive so we are ready to do business as soon as we are able to.

"This is why we have had to keep all the card reader contracts on for example.

"We keep thinking we will be able to reopen but then something comes along to stop us. It's the not knowing when we can reopen but having to be poised ready to go that is really hurting us."

Image source, Lesley Cameron
Image caption,
Jude Law has visited the Dominion Cinema in the past

The family finally decided to reopen the cinema, which was built by her grandfather William Cameron in 1938, on Halloween weekend despite having no new films to show but they were thwarted by the latest 16 day government restrictions that run until 25 October.

She said: "You need time to promote and let people know you are reopening so these latest Covid restrictions meant we had to cancel those plans."

At the beginning of the lockdown the family removed 80 seats from the cinema and ripped out its box office to make way for social distancing measures.

Mrs Cameron said: "We thought we were going to be able to reopen in July, we had no idea it would be this long."

Image source, Lesley Cameron
Image caption,
Billy Connolly with Dame Judi Dench at the Dominion Cinema

The Dominion is one of only two family-run cinemas in Scotland.

The company was incorporated by her grandfather, William Cameron, on 13 May 1937 when he bought the land in Newbattle Terrace. The cinema opened on 31 January 1938.

The only other time that it has been forced to close was in September 1939, when there were fears over air raids at the start of World War Two.

However, the Dominion reopened a week later due to public demand.

Many Hollywood stars have visited the Dominion down the years, including Judi Dench, Billy Connolly, Steve Martin and Sigourney Weaver.

Mrs Cameron said: "We have come through World War Two, survived the opening of multiplexes so we don't want to have met our match by Covid-19 but we just might have."

Image source, Sandy Young/Getty images
Image caption,
Marc Evans, Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman at the Dominion during the Edinburgh International Film Festival
Image source, Alastair Cameron
Image caption,
William Cameron built the Dominion Cinema in eight weeks

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