Christopher Nolan is On a Mission to Save Celluloid Film

By March 12, 2015
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Director Christopher Nolan is one of the most acclaimed filmmakers of the past decade, with films like MementoInsomnia, all three films of The Dark Knight TrilogyInception, and now Interstellar all showing that the creator has a definite eye for the cinematic experience. Through his use of the IMAX format to his documented exacting standards for the sound mixes that go into his films, Nolan is the kind of filmmaker that believes very passionately in the magic of the theater-going experience, and he believes in it so much that he wants to save celluloid.

According to a piece from Variety, Nolan and artist Tacita Dean were the leaders of an unofficial symposium last Sunday at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles entitled, “Save Our Celluloid.” The intent was to bring film industry professionals and the public together to talk about the preservation of film in an increasingly digital era, with both private discussions and public forums dedicated to the topic. While much of these kinds of discussions only happen with specialists and academics in small venues, Nolan’s passion for the topic, along with his mere presence, helped give a certain qualifying air to the topic among a wider audience.

The director's 1998 debut film Following bucked the oncoming trend of digital formats by shooting on 16mm film with a budget of $6,000.

The director’s 1998 debut film Following bucked the oncoming trend of digital formats by shooting on 16mm film with a budget of $6,000.

Reports indicate that there was a general overtone of good faith and constructive discussion at the event based on the topic. One specific instance of Nolan’s own belief in celluloid was brought up when an attendee suggested that the advancement of digital technology has lowered the price of admission to film creation, thus opening more people to the idea of expressing themselves through the cinematic medium. Nolan’s answer to the idea was both thoughtful and telling. He said, “I don’t think film has ever been a restraint on creative expression,” using his first film, 1998’s Following, as a primary example. Using 16mm film stock and a budget of around $6,000, Following was created at a time when digital cameras were beginning to become commonplace, and the young director bucked that already evolving trend in his own debut.

This event is far from the first time Nolan has expressed his views on the creation of film, and why celluloid itself should be used more often than it is. In an editorial the director himself wrote last year in The Wall Street Journal, Nolan laid out what he believes will be the ultimate element that will allow movie theaters to persist even as home media technology becomes more advanced. He wrote,

The public will lay down their money to those studios, theaters and filmmakers who value the theatrical experience and create a new distinction from home entertainment that will enthrall—just as movies fought back with widescreen and multitrack sound when television first nipped at its heels. […] They will employ expensive presentation formats that cannot be accessed or reproduced in the home (such as, ironically, film prints). And they will still enjoy exclusivity, as studios relearn the tremendous economic value of the staggered release of their products.

Although notable filmmakers like George Lucas have lead the charge for a digital transition, it is rather easy to see that the benefits of film still continue to serve us in the modern entertainment standards we currently enjoy. High definition re-releases of classic films and television shows on home media formats are seen with entirely new resolution and details when restored from the original film negatives, while shows or films shot on then-“newer,” more economical and prevailing formats are unable to be restored to high definition resolutions. Who knows what kinds of images can be preserved through the power of celluloid in the future?

It’s certainly a fascinating debate for anyone who is a film enthusiast, and this should prove to be a genuine question to ponder for both existing and up-and-coming directors alike. Is the future of film locked in the ever-evolving digital media formats? Or, is it best to rely on the most time-honored and universal capturing format around? We’ll just have to see which way the wind blows as we walk into the theater.

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Chris Clow
As a former comics retailer at a store in the Pacific Northwest, Chris Clow is an enormous sci-fi, comics, and film geek. He is a freelance contributor, reviewer, podcaster, and overall geek to GeekNation, Batman-On-Film.com, The Huffington Post, and Movies.com. He also hosts the monthly Comics on Consoles broadcast and podcast. Check out his blog, and follow him on Twitter @ChrisClow.
  • M o L l Y

    I don’t blame him, its a part of the movie culture thats dying due to the new technology

  • Muhranduh

    i fully support what this guy is doing

  • Annie

    my grandpa has a huge collection of celluloid films that he’ll roll when the family gets together

  • That’s Krayy

    the digital age is taking over

  • kRobbie

    this guy should make a museum

  • That’s Krayy

    there are some things that would be better physical…like pictures and movies and books, but the digital age is making all those and more stored in the air basically…data doesn’t take up space or if it does it’s so miniscule

  • kRobbie

    old school film traditions are where its at

  • extraterrestrial

    hmmm well to be honest that stuff is pretty pointless now so why even bother?

  • JKeeldit

    Save the Celluloid!