Bristol’s pursuit of film excellence

Nonesuch takes a look at what the city and the University are contributing to the world of cinema and television in the digital age.

When you think of Bristol and the world of small and big screen, what springs to mind? Hollywood star and Horfield native Cary Grant? Aardman Animations’ Wallace and Gromit? What about the BBC’s Blue Planet and David Attenborough? Or maybe you just fondly remember curling up in front of the latest offering from the University’s Film Society during your time here.

‌Our alumni in the world of film and television include actors, directors, writers and special effects experts. They’ve won Oscars and BAFTAs and are seen as leaders in their fields. Even our University buildings have had a starring role. The 1990 BAFTA-award-winning film Truly Madly Deeply was filmed on location at our very own Goldney Hall, while 2006 hit Starter for Ten was filmed at the School of Chemistry.

Bristol’s reputation as a city of film continues to spread far and wide, and in late 2017 Bristol was designated UNESCO City of Film, becoming an official member of the international UNESCO Creative Cities Network. Dr Angela Piccini, from the School of Arts, said: ‘UNESCO City of Film status draws together all of the diverse film, television, and screen media activities across the city. Here at the University we actually teach and research across moving image forms in many Faculties, far beyond the Department of Film and Television and Faculty of Arts – from medical imaging, to computationally driven innovation, to the politics and power of media representation and the aesthetics of industry-facing practices. Bristol is at the forefront of moving image innovation and the creative industries.’

And in February this year our Chancellor Sir Paul Nurse FRS FMedSci conferred an Honorary Doctor of Letters upon Col Needham – who some have referred to as the ‘most powerful Brit in Hollywood’ – for his contribution to the film industry. Dr Piccini gave the oration for Mr Needham, who is the founder and CEO of the renowned website IMDb (Internet Movie Database). Formed in 1990 IMDb became a wholly owned subsidiary of in 1998. As a film buff Col wanted to build a portal of information on all things screen-related, where like-minded individuals could connect and share their love of film no matter where they were in the world.

Today IMDb has over 250 million monthly visitors, who go online to rate, review and read everything they can about films and TV shows from around the globe. Col talks about how Bristol has been so important in the success of the company, and why it still has its heart in the city: ‘We manage the world’s largest database of film and television information from Bristol. It’s a 250 million item database based in the city, and I don’t think the company would have grown the way it did had I been anywhere else. Bristol has been a city of technology companies and media entities for a long time. With IMDb sitting at this intersection of film and technology, when we need to hire we can find people with the right skills.’

As the University continues to grow and integrate its focus on technology and innovation, we look forward to continuing to enjoy Bristol’s status as a place for film to flourish.


Further information

You can listen and download the audio version here (mp3).

Wallace and Gromit from The Wrong Trousers © Aardman Animations 1993

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