One of the key distinctions made early on during yesterday’s Power of Story: The Art of Film panel at the Sundance Film Festival is that shooting on film should not be considered a modern technological advancement. “Technologies are superseded,” argued director and panel participant Christopher Nolan, adding that film “is not a technology, it’s a medium.”
Joined by director Colin Trevorrow, cinematographer Rachel Morrison and moderator Alex Ross Perry, the collected filmmakers held a 90-minute discussion on the vitality of film as a resource that not only improves the visual experience of seeing a film, but enhances the storytelling abilities of those who use it.
For all the participants, it was another step in their continued advocacy for film as a necessary part of the moviemaking process. We’ve collected some of the panel’s highlights below.
Film as a Creative Guide
Perry began the talk by speaking to the value of film as a visual democratizer, especially for lower-budget titles. “It’s the biggest and only special effect that I have on movies that don’t cost very much money,” Perry said.
Echoing the worth of film as a focus for the daily effort of filmmaking, Nolan described the effect that film has on an actual set. “There’d be this magical moment where everything had to work perfectly. That expectation and that energy is the medium speaking back to you. It’s literally hearing the film running through the camera and everyone on set knowing, ‘Oh, shit. This is it. This is the moment we have to do the thing.'”
Film as Something Timeless
Nolan railed against the idea that film is an outdated mode of image capture that will inherently die out. “As a medium, it will continue to exist and has to continue to exist. It’s pointless to pretend that it has to go away so that a generation of new filmmakers coming in don’t get to experiment with it,” he said.
For Trevorrow, the use of film isn’t only useful for preserving a method of moviemaking, but it speaks to the authenticity of telling stories from bygone eras. Although much of the panel strayed away from pitting film versus digital, Trevorrow admitted that “the only place where I tend to not be able to attach myself entirely to something shot digitally is when that’s a period film. There’s something immediately in my brain that says, ‘Well, they didn’t have video cameras then.'”
To the delight of the audience, on the use of film for his notable upcoming project, he added, “I could never shoot ‘Star Wars’ on anything other than Scope 35 and 65 because it’s a period film. It happened a long time ago.”
Film as Reality
If the object of a film is to make people believe in something magical, many of the panelists argued that film achieves that goal in the most practical way. “I wonder sometimes if, at least to me, film helps me believe that the thing I’m watching actually happened,” Trevorrow said. When discussing film in the context of big-budget studio films, he added, “When you’re talking about these kinds of movies where you’re presenting people things that obviously aren’t happening in our real world, to present it on film, I feel like it just does something to your brain and your ability to suspend that disbelief.”
“If you’re asking me to say about film that moves me or guides me, for me, it’s always had a very tactile sense of the intervening medium,” Nolan said. “When I watch ‘Fruitvale Station,'” he continued, referencing Morrison’s work, “it’s carved in oak as opposed to being stenciled on plywood.”
Film as Something Human
Morrison, the cinematographer on recent Sundance titles like “Dope” and “Sound of My Voice” in addition to “Fruitvale Station,” also described a real, profound connection between film and personal stories. “For me, I equate film with humanity,” she said. “There’s this tactile, subtextual, subconscious quality that comes inherently from film.”
Continuing on film’s emotional resonance, Morrison said, “There’s an inherent authenticity that you immediately buy into. And I would even say that there’s an inherent empathy. So much of what we’re doing is about creating an experience where the whole objective is to put the audience in our main characters’s shoes…to create a subjective experience. So if you can help the audience to empathize in any way, what better tool could you ask for?”
For the complete discussion of the importance of film, the full discussion is embedded above.