Case Study: Silent Film Revolution

Over the course of 2019 and 2020, South West Silents showcased the way that silent film could (and should) be correctly screened with the best restorations from around the world and the best musicians to play live alongside the films.

  • #SilentFilm


Over the course of 2019 and 2020 South West Silents planned to screen a number of key titles from the silent film cannon, highlighting some less well-known titles and introducing new and regular audiences to a wider selection of silent films than ever before. As well as new and unique titles South West Silents wanted to showcase the way that silent film could (and should) be correctly screened with the best restorations from around the world and the best musicians to play live alongside the films.

The subjects for this season included ‘The City and Silent Film’, ‘The Silent Films of the Weimar Republic’, ‘Silent Women Film Pioneers: Alice Guy-Blaché’ and ‘100 Years of Silent Film: 1920/2020’ as well as standalone themed events.

South West Silents also planned to continue to support other local film organisations and societies in and around the region by suggesting titles and musicians and pointing their regular audiences in the direction of other related events.

Project aims

  • To expand on past programming to give an even wider selection of films from the period.

  • To build on audiences from past years and engage with younger audiences

  • To boost South West Silents’ profile to continue after this season of events with even more silent film screening into 2021 and beyond.


  • Admissions exceeded expectations by over 500, marking a significant growth and making this year the biggest attendance yet.

  • Fantastic feedback was received from all events about the quality of the films (the restorations as well as the selection of titles).

  • Great feedback in reference to the music as well as the atmosphere of the events themselves.

  • The quality and range of titles: a vast selection of titles were screened not only from regional and national British film archives but also international archives including Lobster Films in Paris, the Filmmuseum in Munich and Deutsches Filminstitut in Frankfurt.

  • Always a thrill to have a great selection of musicians to work alongside; all of which are not only the best in country… but the best in the world!


Battleship Potemkin, The Golem (screened at The Arnolfini)
The Man Who Laughs (screened at Bristol Cathedral)

Key partnerships

Curzon Clevedon
Lobster Film Paris

What worked

  • Maintaining contact with and ensuring attendance of regular/existing audiences as well as reaching out to new audiences – particular success with reaching audiences under 25 this year.

  • Working alongside other organisations in developing content not only online (blog posts) but also key live events in the region.

  • Building an even stronger presence on social media including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

  • Mixing known silent film titles with very obscure titles and getting novice silent film audiences to see something different. This helped in the long run as many returned and returned when they began to realise that there was far more to silent film than the regular titles.

What has been difficult

  • Press coverage within the region has been very difficult this year. Hardly anything in fact.

  • Getting other SW Hub groups taking an interest in screening silent film and in particular trying to get them to screen more than the usual standard silent films.

What you would do differently if you did it again

  • A better connection with our audiences via our website which should be their go to location.

  • Branding on the cinema screen’s at all locations which includes Twitter handle etc.

  • Look into involving a guest programmer who could bring even more eye opening titles to the south west. This is something we are hoping to do in the future.

Awareness / Attitudes

South West Silents attracted a new wave of audiences over the course of the season and was able to show these new audiences the chance to see some really rare silent film titles. This is reflected in the season’s programming with a variety of restorations not only from the UK but also from international partners from around the world.

Knowledge & Experience

56% of the audience surveyed stated that they had been introduced to new types of films (ie films from the silent era).

74% said that our screenings increased their awareness of film heritage.

77% stated that our screenings provided a worthwhile cultural experience

61% had had their appetite for independent British and international films increased.

99% of the audience rated the experience of the events either Good or Very Good with 99% stating that they will attend another screening in the future. Given the fact that a lot of our events by the end of the season were incredibly busy showed that audiences were returning but were also inciting others to join them.

Social Cohesion

We encourage every member of the audience to meet up in the venue bar/cafés after the screenings and this has become a reliable place to not only get extra feedback but also ideas about future events and seasons. This also always encourages many people to return for future screenings.


We are very lucky to have a wide variety of audience members who travel from not only the rest of the region but we also have a strong group of attendees traveling from further field such as South Wales and all along the whole of the East M4 corridor as well. Some of these regulars travel by train and usually stay the night and travel back the following day making a long weekend.

Some of our regular venues have also noted a spike in their food and drink sales whenever our events take place.

What audiences said

  • Live score was excellent and almost forgot it was live! What a wonderful event and chance to see silent film live!

  • God bless South West Silents

  • Beautiful restoration of a film I had never heard of before. The live score was an absolute treat +
    made it a very immersive experience.

  • Excellent event overall. Please continue to support these kind of like this!

  • Wonderful film, wonderful event. Thank your South West Silents

  • Super impressed with the entire event. Please more!

What professionals, press and partners said

  • South West Silents has re-energised the local silent film scene and set a model for creative, well-planned repertory cinema screenings.’ Pamela Hutchinson, Writer, Critic and Film Historian

  • I think South West Silents is one of the UK's most vital independent film programming organizations. The team have developed an increasingly ambitious schedule of silent film screenings, bringing both established classics and recent rediscoveries to the South West. They also book specialist musicians to provide musical accompaniment and for me it is always a pleasure to work with them.’ Stephen Horne, Silent Film Musician

  • I’ve attended a number of the South West Silent events over the last year or two, at various venues, including the Cube and Arnolfini. The films themselves have often been a revelation and very well chosen and the musicianship always second to none. I took a good friend to one event recently at the Cube, who is a neurosurgeon by profession and a musician in his spare time. He hadn’t attended any SWS events before and he was “completely blown away” by both the film and John Sweeney’s playing. I think this neatly sums up the impact of these events, introducing a wealth of extraordinary films from the past to new audiences and coupling them with virtuoso performances from a variety of very talented musicians. What more can you say?’
    David Sproxton, Co-founder Aardman Animations

  • A wonderful team of experts and cinephiles, engaging their audiences with a brilliant and varied programme of cinema’ Meg Morley, Silent Film Musician

  • South West Silents is a much valued partner of Bristol Cultural Development Partnership, Festival of Ideas and Festival of the Future City. They bring expertise and knowledge to our projects; use their contacts extensively to bring the best of silent cinema to our events; help us attract new audiences for our work; and challenge us always to produce outstanding programmes and festivals.’ Andrew Kelly, Bristol Festival of Ideas

  • I’ve played for many screenings of silent films put on by South West Silents over the last few years and the screenings have been without exception of interesting and often lesser known films, and these screenings have always drawn a large and diverse audience. As far as I can work out, South West Silents is run on a shoestring, and all the money they have goes into putting on screenings. Their enthusiasm has led to Bristol building up a substantial audience with an interest in silent film.’ John Sweeney, Silent Film Musician