This project was a study of the genesis and development of Watershed, the Bristol’s leading independent cinema and the South West’s Film Hub Lead Organisation of the BFI’s Film Audience Network. The project was funded by a UWE Bristol Vice Chancellor Early Career Research Award and its fundings were published in an Open Access peer-reviewed journal article in the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. The project resulted in the subsequent AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award: ‘Independent Cinema in the Age of Video-on-Demand’ (2020-23), with Watershed as the partner organisation.
Established in 1982, Watershed was both the first full-time multi-screen independent cinema outside London and the first to integrate exhibition with production across a range of media arts: an innovative model that earned it the moniker of ‘Britain’s first media centre’. Watershed was also one of the first culture-led regeneration projects in the country, a model later much-imitated elsewhere. Despite its significance, however, Watershed’s development as a ground-breaking independent cinema had not been subject to any detailed analysis.
Beginning in the mid-1960s with the British Film Institute’s Regional Film Theatre policy, the project investigated Watershed’s history until the late-1990s. It revealed the complex local and national contexts that shaped Watershed’s development and analysed how and why such a major cultural initiative came into being at a time of profound cuts to arts funding in the UK. Moreover, the project explored how issues central to Watershed’s development remain at the heart of contemporary debates about independent cinema exhibition, from questions of subsidy and tensions between nation and region to the difficulties of policy implementation and the complex reality of ‘independence’.