The BFI has announced that it is celebrating British film director Christopher Nolan with its highest honour, a BFI Fellowship. The Fellowship recognises Nolan’s extraordinary achievements and enormous contribution to cinema as one of the world’s most successful and influential film directors, constantly pushing the limits of what large-scale filmmaking can be whilst retaining a reverence for the history of the medium and the primacy of cinema-going.
The BFI Fellowship will be presented to Christopher Nolan at the BFI Chair’s Dinner in London on February 14 2024, hosted by BFI chair Tim Richards. This will be followed on February 15 2024 by an In Conversation event at BFI Southbank and a special introduction to Tenet at BFI IMAX, for which public tickets will be available. During his visit, Nolan will also visit the BFI National Archive’s Conservation Centre, the international centre of excellence for screen heritage preservation that the BFI operates on behalf of the nation.
From Memento to Batman Begins, Inception to Dunkirk, Nolan is a rare director who marries his epic vision with an intelligent, unique approach to filmmaking and storytelling. His films have won 11 Academy Awards, enjoy huge critical acclaim and the respect of his peers, whilst appealing to audiences across the globe and – with over $6.1 billion grossed worldwide – massive box office success. The release of his latest film, Oppenheimer, in July 2023 took the world by storm, creating a global phenomenon that got audiences excited about cinema-going again, not to mention grossing over $950 million globally for Universal Pictures, Nolan’s biggest film ever at the UK box office, grossing £58.7 million to date surpassing The Dark Knight and Dunkirk. The film had a rare second run in early November at IMAX cinemas in the US making this epic the fourth highest grossing worldwide IMAX release of all time. Oppenheimer will be showing at BFI IMAX again in January 2024.
A blockbuster auteur and champion of cinema, Nolan’s films are made for, and best experienced, on the big screen. He has long advocated for his films to be seen on the medium they were shot on, 65mm IMAX cameras on eight of his features, and, for their full impact, on 70mm prints on IMAX screens. Nolan has had a profound and far-reaching impact on this great art-form and his passion for and commitment to celluloid has seen him take an active part in advocating for film preservation, restoration and archiving, and generously supporting the work of film archives around the world, including the BFI National Archive.
Christopher Nolan said, “I am thrilled and honoured to be accepting a BFI Fellowship from an organisation so dedicated to preserving both cinema’s history as well as its future.”
BFI chair Tim Richards said, “I’m delighted to be honouring and recognising Christopher Nolan with a BFI Fellowship. Christopher Nolan is one of the greatest filmmakers of the 21st century, creating hugely popular movies that have grossed over $6 billion worldwide. His movies are all made for the big screen to challenge and entertain audiences around the world. Christopher’s commitment and support of the Cinema industry is legendary. He has also been at the forefront of preserving celluloid through his involvement with The Film Foundation and his own support via the Morf Foundation for the BFI’s photochemical work. All done to ensure that current and future audiences will be able to continue to enjoy and learn from our incredibly rich history of cinema for many years to come.”
For over 25 years Nolan has enjoyed an incredible career working with many collaborators from early on, including his producing partner and wife Emma Thomas. Like some of the best directors working today, Nolan’s career started in independent film. His debut feature, which he also wrote, was Following in 1998 and its time shifting, experimental structure of the narrative was to become a distinctive theme in much of his later work. Nolan’s second feature the neo-Noir psychological thriller Memento (2000) starring Guy Pearce and based on a short story by Nolan’s brother Jonathan (who also co-wrote his later film The Prestige (2006)), was a breakout hit, establishing Nolan as one of the most exciting and daring new voices in cinema and regarded as a masterpiece.
Nolan upended and transformed the Superhero movie with his dark and compelling interpretation of the Dark Knight trilogy, paving the way for the superhero boom of the last decade and casting edgy, independent actors such as Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Heath Ledger in leading roles. The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) are the two highest earning Nolan films released worldwide.
Technical daring and multi-dimensional worlds have become synonymous with Nolan’s work with masterpieces including Inception (2010), a sci-fi epic which won four Academy Awards and eight nominations, including Best Picture and Best Screenplay, and Interstellar (2014) which still packs out IMAX houses.
In Dunkirk (2017), Nolan’s creative vision turned to World War II on another epic scale, this time with a visceral, hyper realistic style that effectively articulates the brutality of war. The film was released to huge critical acclaim and commercial success.
Though he has never won an Academy Award, Christopher Nolan’s personal accolades are numerous and far-reaching. He received the CBE in 2019, has had five Academy Award nominations, five BAFTA nominations, six Golden Globes nominations and, in 2012, he became the youngest director to be honoured with a hand-and-footprint ceremony at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. This year he won the NATO Spirit of the Industry award and the Sundance Institute’s first ever Trailblazer Award.
Nolan will be joining the distinguished ranks of other BFI Fellows including David Lean, Bette Davis, Akira Kurosawa, Ousmane Sembène Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, Orson Welles, Thelma Schoonmaker, Derek Jarman, Martin Scorsese, Satyajit Ray, Yasujirō Ozu and, most recently, Tilda Swinton, Barbara Broccoli, Michael G Wilson and Spike Lee.