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Bristol’s independent cinemas: More than just a screen

In a culture which boasts such vibrancy and diversity, how have Bristol’s independent cinemas contributed to the colouring of this fabric and why should you be keeping close tabs on the going-ons of these spaces?

By Victor Bennett, Film & TV Sub-editor.

Watershed, The Cube and 20th Century Flicks are three of Bristol’s most exciting independent cinemas. Branded not solely by their intriguing film screenings, these spaces are characterised by their dedication to inspiring and actively developing the next generation of Bristol’s film talents.  

Located at harbourside, Watershed opened in June 1982 as the country’s first exclusive media centre. Beyond its 3 cinema screens, Watershed has a café, bar and various spaces designed for conferences, discussions and offices.

Whether you need space to have a coffee and read your book or a spot to hang out with friends over some drinks, Watersheds café/bar is a space which can accommodate all your dietary needs. Nacho Monday is the most popular day of the week, when the regular café/bar menus are replaced with nachos and special drinks such as local beers, Patron tequila and Mexican lime and soda.  

Courtesy of Watershed

Besides the latest Hollywood Blockbusters such as Barbie and Oppenheimer, Watershed presents a wide-ranging collection of film screenings. From timeless classics to hidden gems, Watershed’s film selection crew provides a balance between comfort and excitement.

Students and under 25s can look forward to September’s viewing at Watershed, with tickets available for £5. Look out for The Old Oak (2023), a moving piece which describes the unraveling of fraught relations when a group of Syrian refugees are forced to flee to the North of England. Amidst this tension, the titular pub becomes the brain of an operation seeking to integrate everyone into the community.

Watershed similarly acts as a cultural hub where everyone has the right to participate and contribute to Bristol’s culture. Offering the option for Relaxed Screenings and Audio Description headphones, Watershed makes certain to accommodate for those with any additional needs.

Courtesy of Watershed

Their Audio Description technology is a service designed specifically to include partially sighted people in the film-watching experience, and all customer facing staff have received basic BSL and Deaf Awareness training.

Located just a few minutes walk from the Bearpit, The Cube is a non-profit co-operative run entirely by volunteers. Similar to Watershed, all of the funding at The Cube is derived from the money they make from their events. Events range from cabaret performances to amateur film-making nights.

The Cube prides itself on its amateur identity, ‘we are amateurs’, its website decrees, “but we resist the negative connotations of the word’. Rather, this independent cinema has rebranded the word to encompass the virtue of community action and the imperfection of local filmmakers. Run seven days a week by volunteers, The Cube makes an important social contribution to its local community.

The Cube // Arron Kennon

One such community project, which was hosted on September 7th at The Cube, was ‘Regional Voices’. This event featured a discussion exploring the rich experiences of various UK regions in a bid to connect diverse voices around the country.

Headed by talented BAME filmmakers of the new generation, Regional Voices poses the question of how we can establish strong alliances and partnerships with regional creatives, and what valuable insight we can gain from one another? The event featured 5 short films between 12 and 20 minutes long which seek to address these compelling questions.

Whilst engaging in such radical discussion is essential to the flourishing of the city, it’s always nice to have a more relaxed browse around the unperturbed and cosy independent shops Bristol has to offer.

The Cube // Arron Kennon

Located on the Christmas Steps is the oldest running video rental store in the world, 20th Century Flicks. With over 20,000 films to hire, you will find it difficult to find any walls that aren’t cram packed with film cases. In an industry dominated by streaming platforms and digitised media, it is both refreshing and nostalgic to find physical copies of DVDs.

Alongside the shop front, 20th Century Flicks have two small independent cinemas which can seat up to a maximum of 18 people. Air conditioned, cosy and comfortable, indulge yourself in an authentic cinematic experience.

20th Century Flicks // Paul Blakemore

The value of Bristol’s independent cinemas should not be confined to that of its screens. Whilst its showings feature films which cannot be seen elsewhere made by the new generation of artists and creatives, independent cinemas should be viewed as factories of culture.

Go and eat Nachos, go and meet Regional Voices, go and browse your favourite DVDs, go to Bristol’s independent cinemas.

Featured Image: Paul Blakemore

Will you be visiting these cinemas soon?