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The Lost Cinemas of Castle Park App is a tour of Castle Park, Bristol's original commercial and leisure district that was destroyed in the Blitz, and the surrounding area. The park itself was the site of five cinemas, with a total of 16 appearing in the app — from the Tivoli which screened the first moving pictures in 1896 to the Europa which opened in 1973. None of these are extant save the Odeon - which presents the challenge of how to bring the invisible history of these buildings to life.

Lost Cinemas of Castle Park: App Prototype on the iPhone

Download the App

The app is now available for iPhone, you can download it here. The app is compatible with iPhone 3, iPhone 4 & 4S, and iPad.

Launch Event

Join us at our launch event on Sunday 24th March, at the Bandstand in Castle Park to commemorate the anniversary of the Queens Picture Hall - one of the 16 cinemas featuring in the app - Bristol's first purpose built cinema which opened in 1910.

The Queen's Hall Cinema, playing in the app

Meeting at the Bandstand at 3pm for a brief welcome, after which you can try out the app and find out about the park's rich cinematic history. There'll be educational activities for children provided by Local Learning and we will be gathering cinema memories.

From 7pm, we'll be screening Mad About Music (1938) starring Deanna Durbin - first film screened at the Odeon, Union Street.

Get more details and a FREE ticket here

The Odeon Cinema, Union Street

The App

Users are introduced to a simple movie poster aesthetic with choice between listening in Castle Park in auto mode, or manual mode. In auto mode, audio stories about cinemas in the park are triggered as you walk around, in manual mode, you can tap the points on the screen to hear about them. You can tweet about your own cinema memories in the app, plus there is a call to action to see 'What's On' at the nearest cinema, celebrating contemporary cinema-going as much as its heritage.

Working with production assistant Kieron Gurner, the app has been through several iterations and user testing with various audiences, including an illuminating comparison between GPS and the manual or 'armchair' mode, designed to make the app accessible for those who are unable to visit the park. Interestingly, users enjoyed the option of being manually in control even when physically at the site.

Mapping the Past

The Lost Cinemas app developed out of a collaborative research project called City Strata, during which we piloted the Cinemapping prototype. We wanted to create a more immersive, cinematic experience and consequently moved away from the text-heavy interface of the earlier pilot to a greater concentration on audio, with pared down images and background map.

The soundtrack became the primary means through which the app attempts to bring the world of the park to life relying on the "acousmatic" images (Chion, 1994) that sound generates in the users' imagination, and aiming for the cinematic "engulfment" (Elaesser, 1998) afforded by a professional sound mix.The intention was always to use a blend of voiceover, dramatisation, oral memories and sound effects at each cinema hotspot. Following user feedback we introduced additional ambient zones with archive music, trailers, adverts and incidental cinema anecdotes between hotspots. This strategy also enables the user to respond directly to the environment without concentrating too much on the screen, a key consideration in locative experience design where the aim should be to harness that serendipitous frisson between user interface, media content and the location itself, creating what Reid et al (2005) have termed "magic moments".

Initially the site for piloting the multiple cinemas mode, it became clear that the Castle Park tour would work better as an add-on, both available to download from within the app and as a standalone 'Cinemapping Experience' in app stores. The finished app is available as the Lost Cinemas of Castle Park on the App Store.

Kids testing the app in Castle Park

Regent Cinema Interior