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‘Britain’s first media centre’: A history of Bristol’s Watershed cinema, 1964-1998

Presence, Steve

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Steve Presence
Associate Professor of Film Studies


This article examines the genesis and development of the UK’s Watershed Cinema and Digital Creativity Centre. 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, ‘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 genesis and development is largely unaccounted for. Beginning in the mid-1960s with the British Film Institute’s Regional Film Theatre policy, the article analyses Watershed’s history until the late-1990s. It reveals the complex local and national contexts that shaped Watershed’s development and investigates 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 article demonstrates 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 realities of ‘independence’.


Presence, S. (2019). ‘Britain’s first media centre’: A history of Bristol’s Watershed cinema, 1964-1998. Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 39(4), 803-831.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 1, 2018
Online Publication Date May 9, 2019
Publication Date Dec 1, 2019
Deposit Date May 22, 2019
Publicly Available Date May 23, 2019
Journal Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television
Print ISSN 0143-9685
Publisher Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 39
Issue 4
Pages 803-831
Keywords Watershed, British Film Institute, Bristol Arts Centre, Arnolfini, Regional Film Theatre, exhibition
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