Once upon a time there was a young, unknown director who had just made his explosive first feature film. The UK distributor wanted to put the film straight to video (you can begin to date it!). Around this time there was an independent exhibitor who programmed the cinemas at Nottingham’s Broadway, a BFI supported regional film theatre, who was passionate about crime films, film noir, thrillers and had recently come back from an Italian crime and mystery festival raving about this new film he had seen called, rather wonderfully, Reservoir Dogs and also he had met its young, garrulous, film encyclopaedic director Quentin Tarantino.
The exhibitor (one Adrian Wootton, now Chief Executive of Film London) championed the film and with the help of some independent sector colleagues convinced the distributor to let the independent cinemas have a print and show the film. We all gladly did because we loved the fresh energy of the film and felt that it could connect with audiences. (And boy did they connect!). The young QT went round the cinemas for previews. It was a blast, he was a blast. The feeling of discovering a new cinematic voice and connecting with new audiences is a thrill of the job. I remember Tarantino making a point of hugging the projectionist because he was so thrilled his film was being shown in a cinema. The rest as they say is history. His next film Pulp Fiction moved him into the mainstream and Kill Bill took him to multiplex commercial success. Since then Tarantino has become a hugely successful filmmaker, auteur and brand.
Watershed hasn’t shown a Tarantino movie since Jackie Brown (his last good film in my opinion but that’s for a different time). His films now work in the commercial world and he no longer needs the support of Watershed. He did need that support when he was an unknown starting out and we were only too happy to help this obviously talented but unknown filmmaker to ensure that his debut film reached audiences. Reservoir Dogs was probably released into 15 cinemas in the UK. His new film Once Upon A Time in Hollywood will get a wide release meaning it will be available in most Bristol cinemas for audiences to see.
(Gariela Cartol in The Chambermaid)
One of Watershed’s roles is to continue to give unknown filmmakers and films exposure as we did with a young Tarantino. It is also to provide space for films and filmmakers who have not made the transition into the mainstream. I always cite the example of David Lynch who almost got to commercial success with the ill-fated Dune. However, multiplexes were never going to show Inland Empire. When Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is released here at Watershed we will be showing Christian Petzold’s Transit described as “Casablanca written by Kafka”, Carlos Reygadas’s ambitious and poetic Our Time and Kirill Serebennikov’s exhilarating Leto which was finished whilst the director was under house arrest. Filmmakers from Germany, Mexico and Russia deserving of at least a handful of screenings in Bristol, and if you can do, catch The Chambermaid this month – the debut feature of exciting new filmmaking voice Lila Avilés.