Even Steven Spielberg’s India trip did not inspire the frenetic press coverage and social media activity that Christopher Nolan’s did. Indeed, he enjoys a stature in Hollywood similar to what Spielberg enjoyed in the 1990 and 2000s. Having directed films like Inception, The Dark Knight, Interstellar, and most recently Dunkirk, Nolan has not known failure in his two-decade career that began with 1998’s Following.
So why was the British filmmaker in India? He was invited to the country by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, an Indian filmmaker who has celebrated archivists like PK Nair (through his documentary Celluloid Man), and has himself worked for preservation and restoration of Indian celluloid films. Nolan has been a fervent proponent of celluloid from the beginning. He prefers to work with hefty film cameras (which must create problems for his cinematographers). It is not that he despises latest technologies. On the contrary, he has used cutting-edge tech like IMAX, particularly in his most recent works. But he also thinks there is nothing that digital filmmaking does that film cannot do. He did admit once ruefully that film cameras are cumbersome to work with.
During the Mumbai event, he questioned the term ‘digital’, “What does that (digital) even mean? It’s used to describe everything, and everything uses digital technology. My films use massive amounts of digital technology. Tacita in her presentation yesterday, talked about how she uses digital technology to make the masks that go into her camera, that then allows her to do multiple exposures on celluloid films. We all use digital in this and in that, but it doesn’t really mean anything.”
So that is why Nolan was in India – to support the cause of film preservation and restoration in this digital age. He attended the event called ‘Reframing the Future of Film’ that was hosted by Shivendra and also brought along English visual artist Tacita Dean who also has worked in this domain.
Before the Mumbai event, he was in Delhi for 3-4 days according to IANS sources. On May 29, he left for Mumbai and attended the three-day event from March 30 to April 1 before flying back to the United States today. On reaching Mumbai, he met with the bigwigs of Indian cinema, including Amitabh Bachchan, Kamal Haasan, Shah Rukh Khan, and others. As expected, he spoke passionately about the importance of film.
Met Mr.Christopher Nolan. Apologized for seeing Dunkirk in the digital format and in return am sending Hey Ram in digital format for him to see. Was surprised to know he had seen Paapanaasam. 😊 pic.twitter.com/iTPgQOZCMH
— Kamal Haasan (@ikamalhaasan) March 30, 2018
“We are making a case for celluloid film in the digital world. We had a very productive meeting with them…we are trying to engage the filmmakers in this discussion regarding how can we continue to enjoy celluloid infrastructure for filmmaking,” Nolan said on March 30.
He also spoke on the obvious criticism he receives for his endorsement of what many believe is a dying technology. “This discussion has risen in the past that why somebody chose to shoot a film in something which is difficult and not digital. They (critics) speak as if filmmaking were an illogical and pragmatic thing to do. But it’s not. No film is illogical or pragmatic. Films are about dreams, magic, escapism and experience. So, it is about your feeling towards the medium whether you want to work or not work that way. I am somebody who chooses to shoot film in something which is difficult than shooting it digitally.”
“None of these fights are easy, particularly when you are starting out. But they are all worth fighting for as we are all part of that tension and the process that filmmakers go through as storytellers,” he added.
— Shah Rukh Khan (@iamsrk) March 31, 2018
You may disagree (I certainly do), but the passion here is remarkable. And he has bonafide credentials to back up his claims. On March 31, his two most recent films like Dunkirk and Interstellar were screened. Interstellar was screened on 35mm film at Mumbai’s Liberty Cinema whilst Dunkirk was screened in 70 mm film at Carnival IMAX, Wadala.
On the last day, the trio of Tacita Dean, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, and Christopher Nolan discussed the importance of photochemical film and why it should be preserved and used. They also talked about the future of the ancient technology and whether it can survive in a digital world.
A single quote that can sum up what Nolan tried to say on his India visit can be this: “We may live in a digital age, but we live in an analogue world.”