Christopher Nolan, writer-director of the British war film Dunkirkwhich bows from Warner Bros. on July 21, reached out to the exhibition industry today at CinemaCon to say how important the theatrical experience is to his vision of the film. His comments seemed to fly in the face of Warner Bros. president of worldwide marketing and distribution Sue Kroll, who earlier in the presentation warned attendees that consumers want other options outside of theatrical exhibition.

In introducing a clip of the film onstage in Las Vegas, Nolan called the epic film “one of the greatest stories of human history. At its heart, it’s a survival story. The enemy is closing in on the British on this beach with no escape. I wanted to put the audience in the story.” The film stars Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance.

Nolan said he wanted to immerse the audience as part of the story on the beach, flying over the beach, running with the troops. The film is not yet completed, but he noted that “it’s the first time we really have been able to use the Imax cameras to its full effect.” Including, he said, using them to film inside airplane cockpits.

“Most important to say here is this is a story that needs to carry you through the suspenseful situation and I make you feel like you are there, and the only way to do that is through theatrical distribution,” Nolan told the crowd. “I want to thank you all for everything you’ve done for me throughout the years … I am depending and relying on all of you to try to present this film in the best way possible.” He said they are cutting Dunkirk in 70mm film prints and will also have high-quality Imax prints available.

With that, he showed a fair amount of footage of the film set against a drumbeat that increased in frequency and built the suspense of the battle. It eventually sounded like a rapid heartbeat as the British troops went to face the enemy in the sky and on water.