This month, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk can be enjoyed at selected theatres in a 35mm presentation, offering the increasingly rare opportunity to enjoy a contemporary theatrical release through the cherished medium of motion picture film.
Dunkirk is presented in 35mm at Hyde Park Picture House as part of the cinema’s ongoing commitment to traditional film projection. Dunkirk’s brand new print offers incredible clarity, a unique patina and a rich, warm sound mix. The presentation also subtly demonstrates the exceptional skill required by a dedicated team of projectionists, who ensure the picture appears perfectly on the big screen.
As the end credits are rolling I head up into the tiny projection room at Hyde Park Picture House to meet Mel and Allan, who are in the process of re-spooling huge reels of film ahead of Dunkirk’s next showing.
Mel, how did you originally get involved in film projection?
Mel: When I was at university in Stoke on Trent, they had a film theatre there which was staffed by teams of volunteers, so I went along and joined in. One day they said that there were some openings for anybody who wants to try projecting, which I did and found really enjoyable. It’s strange, as I never saw myself as that technically minded before that, but once I got involved I really took to it. So I moved to Manchester, gaining experience there before I joined The Hyde Park Picture House, where I’m now working with Allan, the chief projectionist.
What would you say a 35mm print offers over a digital projection?
Mel: There’s definitely a different look to it. It’s got this luminosity and vividness that you don’t get with digital at present. The colours are much richer and more subtly shaded too. A 35mm print is actually higher resolution than watching an average digital projection. Here we show films on a 2K resolution digital projector and some cinemas have got up to 4K, but really to match 35mm film you’d need to have an 8K projector. The technology is not quite there yet and the picture quality is still a long way off beating the detail you can see in a good film print.
Also, I’ve always thought digital has trouble depicting water, and there’s a lot of water in Dunkirk! I wondered if this was maybe one of the reasons why Nolan wanted this to be shown on film. It seems like the way water moves is too much for digital projection to handle, and you can often see little bits that look a bit pixelated, or where waves break apart into digital chunks, so it can look nasty. So it is fantastic to see analogue water; I think with 2K and 4K we’re getting close to showing it with some accuracy, but nothing beats celluloid analogue water for me.
Has the projection of Dunkirk presented any unique challenges?
Mel: So far it’s been pretty straightforward. The way we’re showing it, we do change overs [of one projected reel to another] and usually, you need cue dots on the print to tell you when to change. The studios used to put cue dots on the print, but they stopped providing them some years back, so now we manually add them ourselves. We’ve got a little machine to do that and you basically just scratch the cue dots onto the film. Dunkirk has been a very nice film to project, actually, as it’s a very thin film so it’s very quiet and the picture quality looks really great.
Allan, could you tell us a little about the equipment which the Hyde Park Picture House uses?
Allan: We’ve got two Victoria 8 projectors, which were made in the Nineteen Sixties in Milan, Italy, by Cinemeccanica. They were originally in a cinema in Grimsby, which had lots of different names but ended up being called Focus. That closed in December 1974, and they ended up being installed in The Lounge Cinema, North Lane in Headingley. When that closed in January 2005, we re-installed them here along with 275 of their 600 seats and some spare new carpet. We closed for a few weeks whilst the whole auditorium was re-floored, re-carpeted and re-seated at the same time as installing the Cinemeccanicas along with a Dolby Digital sound system, which up to that time we didn’t have. I think that film soundtracks can have a real quality; a richer bass. That’s not something we necessarily measure with instruments, it’s just that to our ears it has a better feeling to it.
What has the reaction to Dunkirk’s presentation been so far?
Mel: Everybody has been very excited about it. Those who have seen it have really enjoyed it…
Allan: Dunkirk is the most intensive 35mm film we’ve done. About 98% of what we project now is digital, and on average we’ll probably show a 35mm film about once a month, except during the Leeds Film Festival when we show about twelve 35mm films. Those prints will usually come in for one day, we show it then it goes back out again. Since obtaining the digital projector seven years ago, Dunkirk has been the most intensive process we’ve gone through with 35mm projection – in excess of 40 screenings.
Mel: It’s been a really good training ground for those projectionists who haven’t had the experience of working on a film like this. We have six projectionists all together, who are at varying stages of experience. Whilst Dunkirk has been pretty intensive, it’s been very enjoyable for us all to work on. The other great thing about projecting Dunkirk on film is that we got this print first, just for our cinema, and it was completely perfect and pristine. Many films we project on film are vintage films and they’ve been in storage or they’ve been to a few cinemas, and they can look worn and the image quality sometimes suffers. So it’s been great to show people just what celluloid is capable of.
Dunkirk – presented in 35mm, can be seen at Hyde Park Picture House, Leeds, up to Thursday 27th July 2017. Book online at www.hydeparkpicturehouse.co.uk or purchase tickets directly from the Box Office.
To read an expanded review of the film by Entertainment Focus, click here.
Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles, Tom Glynn-Carney, James D’Arcy, Jack Lowden, Aneurin Barnard, James Bloor Director: Christopher Nolan Writer: Christopher Nolan Released by: Warner Bros. Certificate: 12A Duration: 106 mins Release Date: 21st July 2017