Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees reflects on the importance of the city of Bristol’s relationship with UNESCO, on the anniversary of its creation in 1945. Originally published on the Mayor’s blogsite, thebristolmayor.com.
Today (16th November 2020) marks 75 years of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Founded after World War II to promote peace, and now representing 193 Member States, it works to deliver sustainable growth and strengthen ties between educational, academic, scientific, cultural, creative, and artistic communities around the world.
In 2016 Bristol became England’s first UNESCO Learning City, committing to improving access to education, learning and skills. The following year, we received UNESCO’s Learning City Award in recognition of successes like our ‘Love Learning’ campaign and Learning Ambassador programme. 2017 saw Bristol win UNESCO City of Film status thanks to our contribution to film and moving image production, education, and culture. Just one of 18 Cities of Film – alongside Bitola, Bradford, Busan, Galway, Lodz, Mumbai, Potsdam, Qingdao, Rome, Santos, Sarajevo, Sofia, Sydney, Terrassa, Valladolid, Yamagata and Wellington – this status recognises our long-standing international reputation and gives us a greater global stage, as well as access to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. It brings funding opportunities, exchange programmes, and creative projects to help the sector grow.
These initiatives broaden Bristolians’ access to training and employment opportunities. Ten Bristol schools are benefiting from ‘Film for Learning’, secured through our UNESCO designations, with funding coming thanks to work with partners in Bradford and Belfast. Teachers are trained to use film in classrooms to better engage children, an approach that is proven to make a positive difference to reading and writing outcomes.
Just as Bristol’s policymakers are leading the way in tackling the climate and ecological emergencies, our filmmakers are harnessing their own power to educate and influence behavioural change to the benefit of the natural world. We are internationally renowned for producing a third of all wildlife documentaries, films recognised at Bristol’s Wildscreen Festival (one of 11 film festivals held here annually). Last month, I opened Wildscreen’s (virtual) Panda Awards, which attracted submissions from the best international talent. A large proportion of the winning films were made by Bristol companies including BBC Studios Natural History Unit, Off the Fence, Plimsoll Productions, and Silverback Films.
I’m proud to see local talent commissioned by major TV networks making films that contribute to important conversations about our past and future. In 2020, the world has watched Bristol-made films about issues including transatlantic slave history, identity, isolation, and migration. Powerful stories included The Shadow of Slavery for Channel 4’s ‘Take Your Knee Off My Neck’ series, and We Are Not the Virus and Sign Night for the BBC’s ‘Culture in Quarantine’ strand: all showing how film can connect, educate, and empower us. Channel 4 are establishing themselves well at their new Creative Hub, opening up even more opportunities to develop and diversify the sector as it continues to go from strength to strength.
In a year when many of us have stayed home for long periods, our appetite for TV and film has never been greater. Bristol is booming with production once again, on location and at Hengrove’s Bottle Yard Studios, the West of England’s largest studio. This is good news for our creatives, many of whom are self-employed freelancers hit hard by the pandemic. The business of producing film and TV continues to grow, with £17m of investment brought into Bristol by filming in 2019/20. Predictions are that, despite the impact of lockdowns, this year and next we should see similarly high levels.
Yet for Bristol, this is only part of the picture. Cultural events and venues face massive challenges as the pandemic continues. Major film festivals, like Wildscreen and Encounters, have become virtual events. Others, like Afrika Eye, celebrating Bristol’s connection with Africa, have sadly been cancelled. Many places made big changes to accommodate social distancing to reopen, only to close again for the current lockdown. These spaces are so important to Bristol’s cultural fabric, connecting communities and sharing stories from across the world. We will continue to support them to flourish again in the future, when it is safe to be together again.
Bristol’s UNESCO designations are not just awards to be proud of. They help Bristol deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals, demonstrate our commitment as a global city to education and cultural development, and support our communities to thrive.
Most of all, they show the world that we are a vibrant and outward-looking city, where the stories we share reflect our heritage, diversity, and creativity.