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INTERVIEW: Christopher Nolan on latest film 'Dunkirk' and the future of movies

AP , Monday 17 Jul 2017
British director Christopher Nolan and his wife Emma Thomas pose for a photograph upon arrival for the world premiere of "Dunkirk" in London on July 13, 2017. (Photo: AP)
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Excerpts from an interview with "Dunkirk" director Christopher Nolan:

AP: Because you're such an advocate of the big-screen experience, you're often asked about concerns about the demise of movie theaters. Is that tiresome?

Nolan: I will say it's tiresome. Now it's streaming. Last film, it was television. Ten years ago, it was video games. Look, video games are great. People love video games. But people also need and love washing machines and they sell a lot of those. It's just not relevant. We've always had TV movies, we've always had miniseries, we've always had straight-to-video movies. We're making movies for the theater. And theatrical experience isn't just about the size of the screen or the technology behind, although that's a big part of it. It's about an audience, the shared experience. What cinema gives you, unlike any other medium, is this fascinating and wonderful tension and dialogue between this intensely subjective experience you're having from the imagery the filmmaker has put up there, and this extraordinarily empathetic sharing of that with audience around you. It's a remarkable medium for that and that's what defines it. What's a movie? The only definition of a movie, really, is it's shown in a movie theater.

AP: Did you always conceive of yourself as a filmmaker drawn to epic and to scale?

Nolan: The IMAX format was invented the year before I was born. When I was about 15 or 16, I saw an IMAX film — it was actually an Omnimax film — and I was just mesmerized. I said why doesn't Hollywood make features this way? It was an ambition of mine from then on and then, on 'The Dark Knight,' I was finally able to be the first filmmaker to use IMAX cameras for a Hollywood feature film, and I've sort of built on that.

AP: Does the story of Dunkirk about living to fight another day hold particular relevance today?

Nolan: Dunkirk sustains and will always sustain as an extraordinary resonant story for humanity because it's a bit of a Rorschach test. What was important to me, what I get from the story, and why I think it's a very important story to tell now, I think we live in an era that overemphasizes individuality at the expense of what we can do together. Whether you're talking about in American industry, the fetishization of the individual billionaire versus a union, just to give you one example. What Dunkirk shows you is: We can do so much more with communal heroism. That's what makes it an unusual war story, of civilians and military coming together. But I think that's why it resonates. We are stronger working together, and for some reason, that's become unfashionable.

AP: Does it strike you that you've made three films in a row about getting home?

Nolan: The concept of home, there's nothing more universal than that. There's nothing that transcends international boundaries or individual prejudices than that. As a filmmaker, I've become interested in primal ideas — ideas that are very simple and can resonate and speak to people in very simple ways but have complex roots to them.

AP: You've made time your plaything in films like this, "Interstellar" and "Memento." It's an elemental part of the medium, isn't it?

Nolan: It is and it's a misunderstood element of the medium. Conventional film grammar has an unbelievably sophisticated approach to modulating an audience's sense of time. The films I've made, I've tried to grab ahold of what in most films is a subtlety. It's there but the audience isn't particularly conscious of it. I've tried to take it and use it for the tool that it is because I think it's a tool that's unique to cinema. The idea that we can go to the same movie theater, look at the same screen for the same period of time, and we could be watching something that represents hours or we could be watching something that represents millennia, and we're fine with that. Cinema has this amazing ability to change and manipulate people's feelings about time while they're watching a film.

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