It is week seven of lockdown - and I keep thinking about something artist and filmmaker Hazel Grian once said:
"If there was some kind of terrible national catastrophe or if a massive hurricane hit Bristol, I think everyone I know would go to Watershed to have a sit down and decide what to do."
I always thought that was what I would do too - take shelter in the bar with a glass of red, sharing the experience with others. Now, despite the fact I live close, the building feels a long way away. But that is not true of the community. Watershed is much more than a building - it is a group of amazing staff, audiences, partners, collaborators and friends whose hard work, loyalty and energy has meant we are very much still open - and that feeling of togetherness is still there.
As usual with Watershed, there is so much going on in different places it can be hard to grasp - so I thought I would share some highlights with you of the last seven weeks:
Cultural Cinema and Film Industry
Whilst we can't stream films ourselves because of distribution rights, we were quick to partner with online platforms to ensure we can keep pointing you at a rich mix of cultural cinema whilst our projectors remain dark. We are working with MUBI, Curzon Home Cinema and BFI Player and the Watershed website is promoting the best of the internet from our friends and partners.
Our role as lead of Film Hub South West means we work across the region with filmmakers, venues, festivals and others developing and promoting film culture. Obviously this industry is already being hit hard - so the team are working closely with BFI to launch the BFI FAN COVID-19 Resilience Fund, reallocating the South West's audience facing pot of £175,000 to support companies and individuals working in cinema exhibition.
We have also launched #shortitout, a collaboration with Depict, Encounters Film Festival, BFI Network and industry partners including Channel 4, BBC Creative and BAFTA, inviting filmmakers of every age and experience level to get involved in making 90 second films whilst in lockdown. This is accompanied by a series of resources and events - we kicked off last week with an online Q&A with Desiree Akhavan (The Miseducation of Cameron Post) which attracted more than 250 people.
Supporting the Creative Cluster
We are continuing to support the wider creative cluster through the Bristol and Bath Creative R&D project, interviewing and selecting a group of amazing fellows for the Expanded Performance programme which we are working with MAYK, Real World Studios and Sennheiser on. And over in South West Creative Technology Network, where our Data Fellowship programme began as lockdown kicked in, the team has redesigned the entire programme to take place online.
Pervasive Media Studio
Next, let's peek inside the Pervasive Media Studio and its community of over 150 creatives - the Studio team are supporting residents remotely, helping them navigate the huge range of business support and funds that are emerging across the UK. Cyber Lunches take place for residents every day and our Lunchtime Talks programme is now fully online every Friday at 1pm - where normally we reach audiences of around 50-60 people in the Studio, our online versions have reached just shy of 1200 people across three talks.
We are continuing our season of artist residencies exploring environmental emergencies and have remotely welcomed our latest recipient, Bristol based artist Joe Hill. Joe is a young freelance composer, musician and sound artist who is working with us to develop his first sound piece for public space.
Working with Young People
Our work with young people sits at the heart of our programme - and Rife is perfectly placed to embrace online working, with content richer than ever and over 50,000 page views in March and April. We are hosting five trainees as part of the Creative Workforce for the Future Programme, which aims to increase diversity in the creative industries, and some of the recent content highlights include Keziah's brilliant podcast Speaking with Colour exploring the relationship between language and cultural identity and Seeing Colour - a photography and poetry series by Qezz Gill. Though of course the situation can be tough and complex for young people - as Lucy Turner reflects on so poignantly in this spoken word poem, Home. And despite the fact we had to cancel our BFI Film Academy Showcase, we have been working hard on the final edits of the three documentaries, the first of which This Hair is Beautiful went live on Rife last week.
Finally - I wasn't sure that a digital version of First Friday - our monthly networking event - would quite cut it. But whilst we are all feeling a bit overwhelmed with screen-based working, it feels like it has never been more important for us to remain connected, so we reinvented First Friday with some custom built software for random networking (think polite chat roulette) which has been a HUGE success, and we are now trying to stabilise and share this wider in the coming weeks.
There is a lot of talk about pivoting right now, but I am not sure that is what we are doing - Watershed has always made the best of any situation and embraced technology to do so. However, we also thrive through physical presence and are missing the random connections of the Café/Bar, the thrill of the start of a film, the team members who are unable to work.
I am deeply proud of the organisation's commitment to keeping open what we can, and supporting others where we can, and hope some of that energy has touched you, wherever you are in lockdown.
Over the next few weeks we will start to share thinking about reopening the building, as it's clear that the landscape will be changed and we would love to know what you want from us. In the meantime, keep sending your thoughts, questions and ideas through the usual channels or let us know in the comments below - and if you are able to support us in this challenging time, we would of course be grateful.
Keep an eye on our slightly modifed 'what's on' section of the website for what we are recommending and presenting and hopefully we will see you all very soon.
Sending love to you all
Clare and the rest of the Watershed team x