The story behind Bristol’s IMAX cinema hidden inside the Bristol Aquarium

The history of Bristol’s IMAX cinema remains one of the city’s underlying mysteries. The 19m x 15m cinema screen, housed in the Bristol Aquarium behind the Watershed, remains almost perfectly intact, although it has hardly shown any film releases in years, having been closed as an IMAX center in 2011.

In February, the former Bristol IMAX presented a series of comedy films for the 19th edition of the Bristol Slapstick Festival, including a rare public screening of this is spinal tap, having seen a slow cinematic renaissance in May of last year. But what led to the demise of the Bristol IMAX in the first place?

The building on Anchor Road first became a cultural space around the new millennium. Wildwalk and Bristol IMAX occupied a converted 19th century former lead works building, which is Grade II listed. Both were part of the fringe of new millennium projects in Bristol led by @Bristol, who we now know as We The Curious, and still own the lease on the building today.

Read more: Halloween film festival to help revive Bristol’s IMAX cinema

Andy MacLean worked as chief projectionist at Wildwalk and the IMAX for three years and recalls that the 70mm projector was installed in the building, which was the size of a large car. The cinema opened on Easter weekend 2000, making it the third IMAX cinema in Britain, and Wildwalk opened later that year.

Bristol IMAX is located in the Bristol Aquarium(Image: Bristol Aquarium)

Bristol’s electronic zoo, Wildwalk, was the brainchild of Chris Parsons, who was head of the BBC’s Natural History Unit in Bristol from 1979 to 1983 and led the team behind the first series of Sir David Attenborough’s Life of Earth. to television in 1979. In the 1980s and early 1990s, he produced large-format natural history films for IMAX Corporation, inspiring him to help curate an immersive natural habitat graced by a high-quality IMAX theater to show informative films of 45 minutes.

Unfortunately, Wildwalk wasn’t enough to hold the screen and there wasn’t enough demand for Hollywood blockbusters, Andy said. “There weren’t enough people in the region to keep it going, so costs were becoming more and more of an issue.”


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