The Sundance Film Festival may be the biggest and brightest star this weekend in Park City, Utah, but quietly down the road, the event’s “sister” program Slamdance stole the show Saturday evening by hosting one of the most high-profile filmmakers in the world.
Christopher Nolan, who debuted his first movie at Slamdance back in 1999 before going on to launch such blockbusters as “The Dark Knight” and “Inception,” was on hand to receive the event’s Founder’s award among a lucky few at the Treasure Mountain Inn screening room.
“Thank you…it’s an incredibly long time since I was here last but it feels like yesterday,” the filmmaker said.
With his wife and producing partner Emma and their four children sitting in the front row, Nolan discussed the process of making his first feature film, “Following,” which he made for only $6,000, while also offering advice to the young filmmakers in attendance.
“It’s not about the one screening you have,” he said. “In many ways that’s where the work begins.”
Nolan, who directed his first movie at age 29 “with friends on the weekends,” said the hard work and self-promotion ultimately led to third parties financing his breakout hit “Memento,” which premiered the following year at Sundance.
“One of the things I took away from the festival is that anyone paying any attention to your film is a fantastic thing,” he said, adding that a Variety review of “Following” gave him a huge boost of confidence, despite the review being “pretty negative (laughs).”
The U.K. filmmaker also credited Brad Pitt as one of the main reasons “Memento” caught the eye of festival programmers, saying Pitt’s initial interest in the project (he later passed) generated a buzz around Hollywood, which ultimately led to Guy Pearce’s casting.
“I’m very, very grateful,” he told Slamdance president and moderator Peter Baxter at Saturday’s Q&A.
When asked whether or not he would ever re-visit smaller scale films like “Memento,” after recent billion-dollar hits like “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Inception,” Nolan said does not decide which movies to make based on their budgets.
“I’ve only ever been driven by story, I try not to think not too much about why I want to make a film,” he said before noting, “I think there’s also a sense of opportunity, that opportunity’s not always going to be there.”
As for his current involvement with Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel” and Batman projects, Nolan insists it was never really a plan or mission of his but rather a seamless transition from the time he spent in Gotham.
“We almost fell into being engaged with the studio on the Batman character and then it became Zack’s film,” he said. “To be honest, that’s the only experience I’ve had producing someone else’s film.”
Nolan is currently in production on his next film, “Interstellar,” which stars Matthew McConaughey and opens Nov. 7, 2014.
“The idea of spending someone else’s money is quite daunting,” he admitted. “I think the thing you have to do is to have expectations for yourself.”