During their Mumbai visit, filmmaker Christopher Nolan and his sons explored the nook and cranny of Chor Bazaar looking for photochemical films and ended up picking a Super 8 camera at the throwaway price of Rs 1,000. Nolan, considered to be one of the most influential contemporary directors, nurses a special love for the camera, which he started using at the age of seven to make short movies. Yet, he strongly argues that his love for celluloid film and the cameras that use them should not be seen as “nostalgia”.
“Nostalgia is a term people use to dismiss other people’s passion, to put it in a box,” said Nolan during “Reframing the Future of Film”, a conversation held at Mumbai’s Tata Theatre on April 1 on the importance of photochemical film and the necessity of keeping it available as a medium for future generations of filmmakers.
Sharing his experience of interacting with Hollywood producers, the filmmaker said most of them believe that, at the end of the day, it’s really about the story, and the medium of filming did not make a difference. “That sounds smart and sophisticated. But we don’t write radio plays, we don’t write novels. It’s a complete denial of the appeal of the medium (photochemical film),” the writer-director said at the ticketed event.
The 44-year-old filmmaker — known for the grand scale of his movies such as The Prestige (2006), The Dark Knight (2008) and Inception (2010) — is a staunch “cinema purist”. At a time when studios have stopped using film prints and switched to digital medium, Nolan has shot all his movies on photochemical films.
Interstellar is shot on anamorphic 35mm and in IMAX while his latest movie, Dunkirk, was shot on large-format film (70mm) using two types of cameras. “I have been asked why I shoot on celluloid rather than video. There is always more money to be made in changing technology. There is always an economic imperative to bring in new technology. I don’t want tech to be the invasion. I want the filmmaker to be the invasion,” said Nolan, who teamed up with visual artist Tacita Dean for “Reframing the Future of Film”. Their events in India were presented by the Film Heritage Foundation.
Speaking about what made Dean and him join hands, Nolan said, “Medium specificity is a concept in the art world. The institution has to respect the medium the artist chooses to work on, you cannot simply take a photo of a Picasso painting, stick to the wall and tell people they are seeing original work. Look at the history of cinema and
film restoration, you have to start applying that principle to the medium specificity.”
In March 2015, Dean and Nolan presented the introductory edition of “Reframing the Future of Film”at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. “When we did the first talk, the struggle was to diffuse the misconception that it was a film-versus-digital conversation. I believe things have moved forward. People are beginning to understand our message, which is more about freedom of choice for artists and filmmakers,” said Nolan, and added,“We have to stand up to the idea that there’s a difference between something that’s shot and presented photochemically and something that’s done digitally.”
Citing the proverb “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”, Nolan said that, once the viewers were disconnected from celluloid projections, everything feels like television. “So, it is important to understand why we are advocating the use of photochemical. Once you show it to people, they understand that,” added Nolan. This conversation was succeeded by the 70mm IMAX film screening of Dunkirk and 35 mm screening of Interstellar. Nolan announced during the talk that, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Warner Bros will screen an “unrestored” 70mm print of the landmark science fiction at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival. “The idea is to give the audience a chance to experience as closely as possible what it would have been to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey when it came out in 1968,” he added.
The conversation set the stage for Jeffrey Clarke, CEO of Eastman Kodak Company, to assure that “film is not going away” and make the announcement that his company would keep producing photochemical films. “We don’t sell many films in India. You need the infrastructure and the labs. We are going to expand the lab in India to create the ecosystem for people to shoot on films again,” he said. Kodak is the last factory in the world to make motion picture film. Though Indian filmmakers were using celluloid widely till 2010, today digital filming dominates the market.
Addressing the concerns that using celluloid is a costly affair, Nolan maintained that it was not very expensive. One of the factors that drives Nolan to use celluloid is the experience it creates for the audience. “I always feel I’m the audience. I’m part of my audience and am watching the films. That makes me think of photochemical films even