Article American British Hindi

Christopher Nolan on the future of celluloid: Film is here to stay


Nolan, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur and Tacita Dean came together to draw attention to the importance of film preservation in the digital age.

Tacita Dean, Christopher Nolan and Shivendra Singh Dungarpur (Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

Sonal Pandya

On the second day of the Film Heritage Foundation’s event titled ‘Reframing the Future of Film’, founder and filmmaker Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, visual artist Tacita Dean and filmmaker Christopher Nolan assembled at Yash Raj Studios, Mumbai, for a panel discussion and short interaction with the media.

The trio walked in to the music of the soundtrack of Dunkirk (2017), directed by Nolan. Dean revealed that they had arrived right after the roundtable discussions involving prominent Indian filmmakers and exhibitors.

Besides Dungarpur, Dean and Nolan, other personalities like actors Amitabh Bachchan, Kamal Haasan and Shah Rukh Khan, designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, cinematographer Santosh Sivan and Kodak CEO Jeff Clarke were present.

This is the fourth global initiative and discussion on the future of cinema. It began in 2015 at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. The second discussion took place in London, the third in Mexico City and the fourth is being held this weekend in Mumbai. 

“It was the first time that we encouraged various communities like artists, filmmakers, stock manufacturers, lab owners, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) [etc] to sit around one table and discuss with great concentration how we can keep film as a medium,” Dean recalled of the first talk in Los Angeles. 

Tacita Dean (Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

Calling the morning’s roundtable meeting “productive”, Nolan said he was there to make the case for the place of celluloid film in the future, in a post-digital world. He felt it was important to look at film “as a creative medium” and not just as a technology.

Nolan wanted to reach out to filmmakers in India, the largest filmmaking community, to “maintain and improve, and continue to enjoy the celluloid photo-chemical power infrastructure for filmmaking”.

The Film Heritage Foundation, he said, had an important part to play as it had to preserve the history of Indian cinema for future generations.

He felt it was necessary “to be able to experience the way those filmmakers had made those films” and to “promote screenings in film, by being able to preserve and protect the works of the past and make them available to the audiences of tomorrow".

“We are fighting a battle to save celluloid films in India,” Dungarpur stated. He felt people are unaware of the importance of the medium and it was up to people like those who had gathered at the discussion to become advocates for film’s coexistence with the digital format.

Shivendra Singh Dungarpur (Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

Dungarpur pointed out that until 2014, Indian filmmakers were still shooting on film. The shift to digital in India has been fairly recent. He shot his own documentary of archivist PK Nair, Celluloid Man (2012), on different film formats that he could find. 

“For me, this dialogue was of utmost importance,” he said, listing reports of older films being lost. “It’s sad the way celluloid has been neglected. I hope their [Dean and Nolan's] advocacy will help us preserve this long history.”

Dean and Nolan both talked about a few myths that persist about film. Dean pointed out that Jeff Clarke had stated Kodak’s commitment to bringing film back at their first event and they still produce film to this day. 

“Filmmakers are not allowed to choose the medium in which they want to make their work, and in art, in my world, mediums are what artists use,” Dean pointed out. They encouraged people to shoot on film again. 

She stressed that we should stop talking about film versus digital and start talking about film plus digital. “We can have both,” she said. “Everything is about choice, it shouldn’t be reduced to one option.”

Christopher Nolan (Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

Nolan, on the other hand, noted the financial imperatives of digital that come from electronic companies. “It’s nothing new there,” he noted. “We have spent the last few years patiently explaining that film is here to stay. It’s a wonderful medium we can enjoy.”

He talked about the spirit of optimism about film from the Indian film community. “There is a lot of excitement from filmmakers and exhibitors in continuing to give audiences a reason to leave their homes and come together in a theatre to experience a story,” he said.

After this statement, Dungarpur said cinematographers Sudeep Chatterjee and Santosh Sivan have said they are shooting their next works on film. Even Shah Rukh Khan expressed his excitement for the medium for future projects. 

“We are not trying to go back,” Dean summed up. “We are trying to go into the future. My personal aim is that I want it to become normal to shoot on film.”

Dungarpur pointed out the demand to see film screenings. The Film Heritage Foundation hosted two screenings of Nolan’s films – Dunkirk in 70mm and Interstellar (2014) in 35mm. The first was fully booked within 10 minutes. To which the British filmmaker wryly commented, “It’s also a good film.”

Dungarpur, Dean and Nolan (Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

Nolan said people believe filmmaking is logical and pragmatic. “It is not. Films are about dreams and magic, about escapism and experience. You have to embrace your emotions and feelings whether you want to work that way or not. I think we see that way just as much from audiences as we do from filmmakers who are constantly in dialogue with audiences.

“Making films is always about facing seemingly insurmountable odds. I’m just trying to position and empower filmmakers to view their choice of medium as one of the things they have to fight for. None of these fights are easy, particularly when you are starting out, but they are all worth fighting for.”

All three were optimistic for the future. On 1 April, the event will end with a final panel discussion at the National Centre for the Performing Arts at Nariman Point in Mumbai.