Interstellar director slams exhibitors who fail to “put on a show”.

Christopher Nolan

Cinema attendance is set to plummet if exhibitors fail to improve the experience for customers, according to director Christopher Nolan.

Speaking at a debate on the future of film as part of the BFI London Film Festival, the British director said that cinemas move from film projectionists to unmonitored digital presentations was devaluing the experience.

“For some reason, it’s become acceptable to say – we’re providing an empty room with a TV in it for you to watch a film,” said Nolan.

“We’re not putting on a show. This has to change. Forget film. If that experience isn’t valued, people will stop going.”

The director of the Dark Knight trilogy, Inception and Interstellar added: “Cinema attendance is relatively stable but it’s not standing up the way it used to.

“The idea it’s dying as an experience or undervalued by younger cinemagoers is complete bollocks. But the experience has to be great or, of course, people won’t come.”

His argument was backed up by fellow panellist Alexander Horwath, director of the Austrian Film Museum, who said: “The bigger and better your home entertainment is, the less of a reason there is to go someplace where it’s more or less the same thing.”

Blu-Ray in cinemas

Nolan pointed to a growing trend of distributors sending Blu-Rays to exhibitors.

“One of the terrible things happening with independent distribution in the States is there is a level of Blu-Ray distribution that is going on,” said the director.

“Theatre owners should be saying no to that. Exhibition shouldn’t work in such a way that you present the worse possible version of the film until someone in the audience complains.

“Exhibitors need to put their best foot forward and have standards. No cinema should be showing a consumer grade format to an audience. At least, they shouldn’t be doing it without saying to the public this is best we can get.”

Film projection in danger

Nolan has long been a vocal advocate of film for both shooting and projecting, arguing that it remains superior to digital.

He applauded US director Quentin Tarantino’s plans to install 70mm projectors at around 100 theatres in North America for the release of his new Western, The Hateful Eight.

Also on the panel was visual artist Tacita Dean, who is known for working in 16mm and 35mm film, and voiced her fears about the future of the medium.

“Can you imagine a world where you couldn’t go to a theatre and see a film projected at 35mm or 70mm?,” said Dean, one of the founding members of

“Until fairly recently that felt like a real possibility because there was an assumption [that digital] was the same [as film]. Then there were people who said it wasn’t the same and we need to protect this experience.”

Nolan stepped in to assert: “It is in danger. The tone that’s crept into the dialogue is that it’s become acceptable for theatre owners and distributors to say it’s more expensive.

“They expect the consumer to say, ‘Well, fine’. But we’re paying the same for a ticket so where are all these marvellous savings?”

Howarth commented: “It’s about demand, knowledge and education. It’s a chain between audience, cinephiles and exhibition venues that need to be in dialogue with the distributors. It’s a matter of stating what you want. It’s not hard to take a certain position. If enough do it, there will be more prints.”

Making an alarming claim, Dean added: “We are destroying prints. Next to Cinelab, out in Bucks, they have a centre which is destroying huge quantities of prints. I’ve seen it and it’s so sad.

“Piles of D-scored films, squelched together, are being destroyed. These are prints that won’t be made again. Why are we destroying them? It’s like destroying library books.”

Digital just a “translation”

The debate, held at the BFI Southbank, was the first in a new series of industry talks under the banner LFF Connects, which aim to explore the future of film and how the medium engages with other creative industries including TV, music, art, games and creative technology.

BFI creative director Heather Stewart, who moderated the debate, said the British Film Institute was the world’s biggest lender of film prints but she acknowledged it could do better after an audience member highlighted that it regularly showed films digitally.

Earlier in the debate, Nolan revealed: “I have conversations with studio heads and at some point - when I’m passionately advocating shooting on film and projecting on film - they’ll say, ‘Well at the end of the day doesn’t storytelling trump everything?’.

“Well, no or we’d make radio plays. It would be a lot cheaper. The medium is part of the content. You can’t separate the two.

“Digital technology has allowed tremendous access to the history of cinema. That’s a phenomenal thing. But I don’t think people are being made aware enough that any digital transfer is ever only going to be a translation of the original film.”