Christopher Nolan Calls On Congress To Save Movie Theaters During Crisis

Tommy holds his helmet at his side as he watches debris burn in the distance in 'Dunkirk'

Christopher Nolan has made many of the most talked about movies of the 21st century -- the kind of movies we make sure we see on a big screen. Now, as Hollywood shuts down production during the coronavirus crisis, he’s making a plea to Congress to save the movies -- or, at least, the movie theaters.

In an op-ed for The Washington Post, the director of Dunkirk, Inception and The Dark Knight Trilogy reminds us of the important role that cinemas play in our lives. Not just the lives of moviegoers, but especially the lives of those who own, operate, and work at movie theaters around the country. The piece, titled “Movie theaters are a vital part of American social life. They will need our help,” begins by highlighting a Missouri-based family-owned chain, B&B Theaters, which has been in business since 1924.

Until this year, the company has never had to lay off an employee. But, after states all around the country called for the closure of non-essential businesses to help limit large gatherings, they’ve had to close over 400 theaters and lay off 2,000 employees.

It’s just one example of the impact that coronavirus is having on the film industry -- and by now, we know there are many. Nevertheless, it illustrates the point that Christopher Nolan is attempting to make: that many movie theaters around the country will be in a precarious financial situation long after this crisis has passed. Airlines, auto factories, restaurants, countless small businesses, and cinemas, too, may need help to get back to business, and it’s up to Congress to recognize that and act accordingly:

As Congress considers applications for assistance from all sorts of affected businesses, I hope that people are seeing our exhibition community for what it really is: a vital part of social life. These are places of joyful mingling where workers serve up stories and treats to the crowds that come to enjoy an evening out with friends and family. As a filmmaker, my work can never be complete without those workers and the audiences they welcome.

Up until this point, we’ve paid a lot of attention to coronavirus’ impact on certain aspects of the film industry. We’ve noticed when movie debuts have been pushed back, when production has come to a halt and when Hollywood has shifted VOD releases to help keep fans entertained at home. Contrarily, Christopher Nolan argues that we cannot forget this other essential piece of the film industry, and he says that in the coming months, we’ll need movie theaters more than ever:

When this crisis passes, the need for collective human engagement, the need to live and love and laugh and cry together, will be more powerful than ever. The combination of that pent-up demand and the promise of new movies could boost local economies and contribute billions to our national economy. We don’t just owe it to the 150,000 workers of this great American industry to include them in those we help, we owe it to ourselves. We need what movies can offer us.

Over the past few years, cinephiles have debated the merits of Netflix and other streaming platforms in relation to movie theaters. Christopher Nolan even weighed in on the matter in 2017, arguing for the value of a cinema-going experience. Now that we don’t have a choice, the argument seems a bit silly. Both are valuable. Both are important. And hopefully, both will continue to play a role in our lives in the years to come.

Katherine Webb