Cannes: Christopher Nolan Praises Stanley Kubrick for Refusing to Play by the Rules

The director, who is presenting an "unrestored" print of Stanley Kubrick's '2001' at the festival, calls for a truce in the film vs. digital war.
Christopher Nolan   |   Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for SBIFF
The director, who is presenting an "unrestored" print of Stanley Kubrick's '2001' at the festival, calls for a truce in the film vs. digital war.

Director Christopher Nolan was 7 years old when his father first took him to see Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey on the big screen at London’s Leicester Square Theatre.

“I had this extraordinary experience of just being transported in a way I hadn’t realized was possible. The screen just opened up and I went on this incredibly journey,” he recalled Saturday as he took part in a maste class conversation during his first visit ever to the Cannes Film Festival.

“I’m very excited to try to give a new generation of filmgoers the same experience,” he said of the plan to screen 2001 for festivalgoers Sunday.

Testifying to the impact Kubrick’s ground-breaking sci-fi film had on the Dunkirk director's career, Nolan said what it left him with was “a sense that films can be anything, they can do anything. What Kubrick did in 1968, he simply refused to acknowledge that there were any rules he had to play by in terms of narrative.”

Nolan, whose commitment to uncompromising cinematic storytelling has been compared to Kubrick’s, described the particular print that will screen at the festival, and then be released in select 70mm engagements in the U.S. as an “unrestored” version, designed to allow moviegoers to experience 2001 the way audiences would have seen it when the film was first released in 1968.

He explained how, while working at Warner Bros. on digital 4K, HDR versions of his own films, he was shown a couple of reels of an answer print from 2001.

He asked if those printing elements, which had been made in the ‘90s, could be used to create a new negative. He was told that was possible, and since Warners had also collected virtually all of the available 70 mm projectors in North America for the release of Dunkirk, “a couple of planets aligned — we had the projectors and we had a way to make the prints.”

Nolan, who’s often been seen as one of the most passionate proponents of film in the debate between film and digital shooting, used his appearance at Cannes to call for a truce of sorts.

He still maintains that when old films are digitized, visual information is lost, but he also argues that film and digital should simply be regarded as different mediums.

“Films that were made, and are being made, in an analog way should be presented in an analog way as much as possible,” he said to applause. But he added, “It’s no longer film versus digital, analog versus digital. Thankfully, there’s an increasing acceptance of the different mediums. So filmmakers who want to shoot digitally should have that right, but filmmakers who want to shoot on film should be granted that right as well. We need to maintain that infrastructure and make sure that happens.

“In the world of restoration, the world of archiving,” Nolan continued, “It’s increasingly important to dismantle some of the thinking that emerged over the last decades, which is that if archives digitize their materials, that would then replace the photochemical originals. What’s very important is that while we recognize digital is a fantastic tool for getting access to the history of film, for getting archival material out there, there has to be a photochemical backbone for managing and updating and storage of photochemical film assets. We need that as an industry. We need that for the history of film. We need that for the future of film.”