“Dunkirk” is just one week away from opening in theaters nationwide, and it marks a big step in the career of Christopher Nolan. The director has experimented with using 70mm film for select scenes in his movies dating back to “The Prestige,” but the WWII drama is the first time he used 70mm film for the entire picture. That’s right: 100% of “Dunkirk” was filmed using 70mm film cameras, and 75% was shot using IMAX cameras.
Nolan has been at the forefront when it comes to advocating about film preservation. He’s constantly talking about the immersive quality of 70mm film and how that texture is lost when you shoot on digital. Nolan’s efforts to revive 70mm have been supported in recent years by Quentin Tarantino (“The Hateful Eight”), Paul Thomas Anderson (“The Master”), Zach Snyder (“Batman v Superman”) and J.J. Abrams (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), and it turns out all of them are in communication with each other about the best ways to use the film stock and keep film alive.
“We all learn from each other,” Nolan told Little White Lies in a recent interview. “In the last few years, the photochemical process has come under threat from electronics companies and studios. I got in touch with Quentin and Paul and we spent a lot of time talking about what can be done. I’ve had a lot of inspiring conversations with JJ Abrams about shooting in IMAX. I actually have a very good IMAX lens that helps to shoot at night which I lent to JJ. I also lent it to Zack Snyder. There’s a lot of interesting collaboration that goes on.”
He added: “As photochemicals come under such pressure and such threat from economic forces – those not wanting to deal with it from a business or an industrial point of view – filmmakers have had to stand up and be counted.’
70mm is one of the oldest Hollywood traditions (movies like “Lawrence of Arabia” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” were shot this way), but studios have been resistant to shooting on celluloid given how much cheaper of an option digital is. But Nolan dispels this claim in his interview, noting the idea that digital is less expensive than film is a “complete fallacy.”
“I’m making my films cheaper than anybody working at the same scale on digital,” Nolan said. “There are no efficiencies to be gained there and no money to be saved….I gave a speech some years ago where I was asked to defend film, and I said that I felt like a stonemason defending marble. It’s ridiculous. This is why we’re all here. It’s what we do. This is film. Every digital format so far devised is just an imitation of film.”
Nolan would obviously love for you to see “Dunkirk” in 70mm when it opens nationwide July 21. You can click here for a complete list of theaters screening the film in this preferred format.