IR Exclusive: Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ 35mm & 70mm to Open Two Days Early

Christopher Nolan Directing

by: Jay Carlson – Editor-in-Chief
with: Joshua Outred – Staff Writer

Christopher Nolan’s love of film in its physical celluloid form has been well documented. He’s been at the forefront of a movement, along with other high-profile directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Wes Anderson, Rian Johnson and Judd Apatow to keep film stock alive as a viable option for filmmakers in an industry that’s become more and more reliant on digital production, from the way that it’s shot to the way that it’s projected in our favorite temples of cinema. Quentin Tarantino, one of the most vocal of the directors who have sworn their allegiance to physical film even went so far as to retrofit his New Beverly Cinema to 35mm film projection only. Most recently the outspoken director released a special Roadshow cut of his latest film, The Hateful Eight, early to theaters equipped to project the film in 70mm, his preferred exhibition of the film.

Back in August Warner Bros announced that Christopher Nolan’s upcoming WWII epic Dunkirk would be released on July 21st  2017, but a source with knowledge of the release has revealed to me that Nolan and Warner Bros are planning to reward theaters who have the ability to project film (and fans who enjoy seeing it that way) by releasing the film two days early on July 19th.

You’ll recall that Nolan employed this same rollout (along with Paramount) for Interstellar, releasing the film two days early back in November of 2014, dropping the film in 240 theaters in 77 markets equipped to handle 70MM IMA X® film, 70mm film and 35mm film formats. The director’s insistence was not without controversy, as many exhibitors  have abandoned their film projectors in favor of embracing digital projection and spending millions in the process to do so. “This devalues what we’ve done. I can’t afford to get the projectors out of the warehouse for two days, and I don’t even have anyone to operate them,” said Joe Paletta, CEO and founder of Spotlight Theatres, a Georgia chain that had switched to all-digital projection. Foothills Cinemas president and CEO Byron Berkley also went on record stating, “It makes no sense to step back in time.”

In a speech given at CinemaCon in 2014 Nolan explained his allegiance to shooting and presenting his films on film vs digitally comes from a simple (yet VERY debatable) case of digital currently being unable to surpass the quality of physical film stock, stating,”I am not committed to film out of nostalgia. I am in favor of any kind of technical innovation but it needs to exceed what has gone before and so far nothing has exceeded anything that’s come before.”

The debate is far from one sided though, as digital certainly has its share of heavy hitter’s on the other side of the fence, with director’s such as David Fincher, Matt Reeves, Danny Boyle, Steven Soderbergh and Robert Rodriguez all embracing digital productions. James Cameron might be digital’s biggest cheerleader, a director who has always pushed filmmaking technology forward, even developing the technology personally when necessary.

I have no dog in the digital vs film fight. From a production standpoint, digital production has opened up a whole new world of filmmaking for filmmakers who might otherwise not have the opportunity to make movies. More voices having access and making films is a great thing. It should be the artist’s decision to pick which medium they feel most comfortable realizing their preferred vision. It’s imperative that there are devotees on the production side, as well as the exhibition side that are keeping the format alive for artists that want to explore that option. I also love that the studio is backing Nolan and allowing his fans the opportunity to see the film in the manner that he originally intended before the full digital rollout.

Dunkirk is Nolan’s take on the historic and heroic events of 1940. When the German forces pinned the militaries of the British, French and Belgium into a trap, coming from the North, East and South, there seemed to be no hope for the allies. What followed was an evacuation from Dunkirk which seemed impossible and hopeless, with France now occupied by Hitler and endless divisions , and the French forces heavily depleted, the nightmare that the entire Allied force could potentially be captured or destroyed was becoming reality.

Eventually, after eight long days, and a mistake by Hitler which gave the Allied troops time to escape, essentially costing him the war, the remaining Allied forces managed to make it safely across the channel and back to British soil. A combination of British war vessels, merchant ships, fishing boats and luxury yachts carried these brave soldiers to safety, and saving the lives of 345,895 thousand troops.