A full cinema at a talk and screening.

'It begins with the audience'

‘A Future for British Film - it begins with the audience’ is the new Film Policy Review report published earlier this year by Dept for Culture Media and Sport.‘What has this to do with Watershed?’ you may ask. The short answer is everything.Our Managing Director Dick Penny elaborates:Cinema can be so much more than entertainment.

‘A Future for British Film - it begins with the audience’ is the new Film Policy Review report published earlier this year by Dept for Culture Media and Sport.

‘What has this to do with Watershed?’ you may ask. The short answer is everything.

Our Managing Director Dick Penny elaborates:

Cinema can be so much more than entertainment.

One of our jobs as an arts organisation is to champion cultural cinema and ensure that films like Shame and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia are available in the cinema.

The Guardian’s film critic Peter Bradshaw has described Once Upon a Time in Anatolia as '...a kind of masterpiece... this has something of Antonioni, or Chekov or even the later stories of Tolstoy.' This Turkish masterpiece will play at only a small number of cultural cinemas outside London, including at Watershed.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Our programming is based on extending audience choice and cultural diversity beyond the mainstream, championing British and world cinema. The majority of our programme is not commercial and does not play in the multiplex (see below for discussion on programming). The income we generate from Box Office, the café/bar, conference hire and fundraising contributes to the cost of making these cultural choices. Watershed is an arts trust and a registered charity – and all income is dedicated to the delivery of our increasingly in demand creative programmes which reach both across art forms: for example the recent Filmic collaboration with St George’s, and across continents, for example the Playable City Sprint with artists from the Far East.

Much of our cultural programme is supported by Arts Council England, but cultural cinema is not part of the Arts Council’s portfolio. With the British Film Institute restored as the lead government agency for film Watershed, and similar cultural cinemas around the country, are hopeful that the British Film Institute will pick up the cultural cinema baton which it was forced to drop 10 years ago – we are hoping for a new investment strategy for the development of cultural cinema – a strategy which ‘begins with the audience’.

Our Cinema Curator Mark Cosgrove continues:

This month there are 47 new films released nationally – that’s roughly 12 every Friday in April opening in cinemas. The scale of those releases will vary – some will go out on over 400 prints in multiplexes across the UK, others will go out in much smaller, sometime single figure print releases.

How to choose what to show here at Watershed? Well, my approach is first, and broadly, if it is going to be available elsewhere in Bristol then it drops down my list. 

The second part becomes more challenging because I’m left with some four or five prime candidate films per week and only three screens. So this month it is Le Havre not Headhunters or This Must Be The Place, Marley not Salmon Fishing in the Yemen or Jeff Who Lives At Home. My rationale: a conviction that these are the more interesting films that you will want to see and a knowledge that things will get less hectic in May and June when some of the titles eg. This Must Be The Place, may be shown.


From time to time I read that cinema (the place) is an old fashioned, outdated, outmoded way to view films. The provocation continues that if films are available on video on demand (VoD), freeview, downloadable etc who needs the cinema? My answer to this is audiences and filmmakers. There is a uniqueness to the cinema auditorium experience that makes the film meaningful to audiences in the way the filmmaker intended.

However, Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre may well prove to be my Waterloo as it will also be available on VoD on release, but my instinct is that you – and Kaurismäki himself – will want to experience it on the big screen.

Another unique quality to Watershed and cinema?

When we get a film like the Bob Marley documentary we also get an authentic Jamaican sound system (courtesy of Steve Rice) into the Café/Bar for a night of reggae tunes and a big One Love Party. Try getting THAT on VoD!  

Mark Cosgrove, Head of Programme mark@watershed.co.uk

Listen to Mark’s monthly podcast: watershed.co.uk/podcast

Further reading
On DShed you can also read Mark’s article, Cultural Cinema in the 21st Century, written in January 2011, in which he examines the cultural significance of cinema, and its status as an artform.


Post new comment

Please read our Code of Conduct, in the site Statement of Commitments before posting a comment