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Bath can take some credit for the birth of cinema. In 1886, Bathonian John Rudge’s grandly-named Biophantascope produced motion pictures by mounting photographs on a revolving drum; his collaborator William Friese-Greene used celluloid ribbon to pioneer the kinematograph. Fast forward to today and neighbouring city Bristol is named UNESCO City of Film – a permanent status that recognises its outstanding contribution to the world of film-making. Channel 4 have just announced that Bristol will become a Creative Hub alongside Glasgow.
In Bristol, the Watershed – ‘Britain’s first media centre’ – is the go-to venue for independent and art-house films, festivals and digital creativity. Behind the scenes is the Pervasive Media Studio - a creative, collaborative space for digital pioneers, artists and academics to test-bed pioneering technologies. A stone's throw away is the newly opened VR Lab - where augmented realities are being developed. Local heroes, Wallace and Gromit, created by Oscar-winning Aardman Animations, began here and still form a large part of the creative economy.
On the fringe, the Cube Microplex is a Bristol institution, mixing live acts with cult classics and left-field world cinema. In Clevedon, wallow in nostalgia and Grade II* listed tin panelling at The Curzon, one of the oldest continually-working cinemas in the country.
Bristol’s world-class biggies are Encounters and Wildscreen, one devoted to short-form films and animation and the other, a wildlife doc fest linked to the city’s famous BBC Natural History Unit. But there are film festivals for all occasions: the Palestine Film Festival, the Radical Film Festival and Afrika Eye among others. The Slapstick Festival gives a new lease of life to the funnies of the silent movie era; there’s a festival devoted to Bristol-born Hollywood legend Cary Grant; and the year-round Bristol Film Festival brings classic cinema to unconventional venues: Redcliffe Caves, Bristol Cathedral or Averys wine cellars.
As well as screening new and upcoming films, November’s FilmBath pioneered the F-Rating classification which is awarded to films directed, written or starring women – all three gets a Triple F gold standard rating.
Roll the credits
While Bristol’s Bottle Yard Studios have provided sets for TV programmes like Sherlock, Poldark and The Crystal Maze, the city's landscapes and landmarks have been used in productions such as Dr Who, Casualty and Wolf Hall. Meanwhile, Bath has provided beautiful backdrops for film versions of Les Miserables, Vanity Fair and Persuasion. Even Clevedon has made a bid for stardom with a supporting role as the town centre in Broadchurch.