Side by Side, 2012.
Written and Directed by Christopher Kenneally.
A documentary investigating the history, process and workflow of both digital and photochemical film creation.
The struggle between the old and the new is something which has plagued cinema since the beginning; colour vs. black and white, sound vs. silent and widescreen vs. fullscreen. In all these instances, the new quickly replaced the old. However, there’s another technological development which threatens the classical way of making movies: the digital revolution. Is it really going to replace celluloid? And if it does, will it be better?
Side by Side, produced and fronted by Keanu Reeves, delves into this particularly thorny debate which is raging inside Hollywood. Looking at both sides of the argument, we see interviews from major Hollywood directors, producers, cinematographers and technicians, all of whom are very passionate about the subject.
There’s also a real enthusiasm to Reeves’ approach, and this makes what could have been a dry history lesson, into something fascinating and entertaining. While the film does go into great technical detail at times, it’s never dreary thanks to the sheer quality of the interview subjects, and the passion they, and Reeves, have about the subject.
Every major player, from James Cameron and George Lucas to Danny Boyle and Christopher Nolan, are given their chance to wax lyrical about their preferred format, and Reeves is clearly having a blast questioning their reasoning. This makes for engrossing viewing as we track the beginnings of digital in Dogma 95, how this directly led to the use of the format in the mainstream and, eventually, onto the first Oscar winning success of the digital era. To any film fan, this will be essential viewing, and might even change an opinion or two.
If there’s a slight flaw, it’s that the film is skewed towards voicing the digital argument, and notable defenders of film, Spielberg and Tarantino, are noticeable by their absence. It’s also unlikely to appeal to the casual movie goer who couldn’t really care less how a film is made.
Despite this, Side by Side is a joy from start to finish and doesn’t shy away from asking the difficult questions, making conclusions and looking at the consequences of the technology. Is it a good thing that anyone can simply pick up a camera and make a film? Can digital ever hope to capture the mythical quality of film? Or will it simply provide something different? Can the two formats exist… side by side?
Flickering Myth Rating - Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★