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  • Writer's pictureSouth West Silents

Celebrating Bristol's William Friese-Greene

Updated: May 24, 2021

Regulars of South West Silents events will probably know the name William Friese-Greene (1855 - 1921) pretty well by now.

Over the past five years, every autumn (usually on the 7th September in fact), we have celebrated the pioneering Bristolian on his birthday with our annual Friese-Greene Beer launch with Bristol based brewery Dawkins.

Very much from the outset we have always had plans to do something big when it came to the centenary of his death on May 5th 2021. Alas, due to Covid our planned events set around William and his world will have to be kept back a little bit longer. But as William would have done, we shall continue the best we can...

So, we are happy to say that the first early stages of our key partnership with Bristol Festival of Ideas and Bristol City of Film celebrating William as well as Bristol itself are beginning to appear. In the next coming few months more news about events tied in with the early silent film world of William Friese-Greene will be announced.

As always, we highly recommend keeping an eye on the William Friese-Greene & Me blog written by Peter Domankiewicz.

For now however, here is a little bit more info about what is planned in the coming few months:

Film 2021, a new year-long programme of activity celebrating the many aspects of Bristol’s film and moving image credentials is being launched today (Thursday 18th March 2021) by Bristol Ideas and Bristol City of Film, supported by the city’s film studios, cinemas, filmmakers and festivals.

Marking the centenary of the death of Bristolian inventor William Friese-Greene (1855-1921), a pioneer of early motion pictures, Film 2021 will include film screenings across the city, walking tours exploring cinema buildings, photography exhibitions, talks and panel discussions, and the launch of a special publication recounting the public’s memories of cinema-going throughout the past 70 years.

Andrew Kelly, Director of Bristol Ideas, says: “For a long time, William Friese-Greene’s contribution to film had been dismissed. The centenary of his death is the perfect time to reassess his achievements as scholarship has revealed new material and Friese-Greene is now increasingly recognised as one of the pioneers of British cinema and a major figure in the early development of moving pictures. He was a fascinating individual who came from a working-class background into prominence in the world of science and he used that fame to promote the role of women in the field of photography, for example.”

Film 2021 is co-delivered by Bristol City of Film, the permanent UNESCO status that

recognises Bristol as a world leader in the field of film and the moving image. “What better

way to mark the achievements of Bristol’s film and moving image sector today than by

shining the spotlight on a pioneer of the past who devised ground-breaking developments in motion picture technology,” says Bristol City of Film’s Natalie Moore. “The ripples of Friese-Green’s work were felt by the film industry in the UK and across the globe. With projects like the CAMERA Innovation Motion Capture Studio at The Bottle Yard now opening up possibilities of mo-cap technology to businesses, Bristol continues to break new ground today.”

The pandemic has, however, had a longer lasting impact on the city’s exhibition and festival

sector, with cinemas still temporarily closed and film festivals forced to either move activity

online, postpone or in some cases, cancel. Many working within the creative industries,

particularly freelancers, have faced the loss of work and little or no state support. Film 2021

hopes to welcome the safe return of audiences to cinemas and festivals, and to celebrate

the skills and innovation of the region’s film professionals.

"Bristol is a great film city with a rich history in cinema and vibrant innovative future with

the moving image,” says Mark Cosgrove, Watershed's Cinema Curator and Founder of

Cinema Rediscovered. “I’m looking forward to being able to welcome audiences back into

Watershed and working with partners to bring new films and filmmaking talent from around the world to the city and explore the many strands of film culture through festivals like Cinema Rediscovered, Afrika Eye and Encounters."

Film2021 will also welcome visitors from outside the city. “The role of film heritage and film

tourism are critical to the work of Destination Bristol. By celebrating this and developing

new content to engage and inspire, Film 2021 will highlight the innovative work of Friese-

Greene, the impact and legacy today,” says Kathryn Davies, Head of Tourism, Destination


Updates on Film 2021 can be found on Facebook and the Bristol City of Film website.

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