Side by Side

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Laura Clifford 
Side by Side

Robin Clifford 

As actor Keanu Reeves, who produced with Justin Szlasa, tells us at the onset, the art of filmmaking is at a hugely historic moment, with celluloid film itself being mothballed in favor of constantly evolving digital technology.  Reeves talks with directors, cinematographers, editors, visual effects artists and colorists on both sides of the argument looking at images captured via silver halide crystals versus digital pixels "Side by Side."

This is an extremely thoughtful, informative and entertaining documentary with input from such luminaries as David Lynch, Martin Scorcese, David Fincher, James Cameron, Steven Soderbergh and George Lucas, as well as veteran cinematographers like Vittorio Storaro and digital trailblazer Anthony Todd Mantle, who won the first cinematography Oscar for a digitally shot film ("Slumdog Millionaire").  Reeves' narration is a bit bland, like a carefully enunciated school lesson, but his interview sessions are lively and intelligent.  If there is a problem with "Side by Side" it is that one expects an actual side by side comparison of footage shot on film vs. various digital cameras.  We do not get that.  The celluloid argument, in fact, is given less time overall than the evolution of digital technology, despite an early (unidentified) subject proclaiming that he does not want to 'give up my oil paints for a box of crayons.'

Reeves and writer/director Christopher Kenneally (who did post-production work on Reeves's "Henry's Crime") cover every aspect of what this change is affecting, from screening dailies to what Keanu dubs 'immediatelys' to the flexibility of camera placement to how effects are created to the actor's experience on set, to editing, projection and archiving.  Photochemical film purists point to its texture and the discipline it forces (David Lynch may love digital, but his great works are on film) and argue that, ironically, it is the only true way to archive movies.  David Fincher discusses how many of his commercial and video work from the 80's can no longer be played because of format changes.  Hard drives fail.  Digital, however, is a far cheaper medium.

Digital technology is being embraced by more and more filmmakers as its quality improves.  Early digital movies were often dismissed because of their cheap video look, but even the first digitally shot movie, Dogme '95 film "Celebration," allowed Todd Mantle to place his smaller, lighter camera in places he'd never before dreamed of. Now someone like Michael Mann can 'look into the night' as he did in "Collateral" and find things that would not be seen on film.

There is a shift in power.  Cinematographers have a lot more of it shooting on celluloid.  Yet their resulting images can be manipulated more to their liking on digital.  When the argument is made that nothing is 'real' anymore, we're reminded that nothing about cinema was ever 'real' in the first place.  And Martin Scorcese makes the bold statement that 'The real auteur of a film is the projectionist.'

One of the chief pleasures of this digitally shot documentary is how highly technical subject matter, like color timing, is broken down for a lay audience.  After seeing "Side By Side," you may never watch a movie quite the same way again.


We have been watching chemically processed films for well over a century. But, over the last 20 years, digital imaging (DI) has been touted as the medium that will replace old style film forever. Producer/interviewer Keanu Reaves brings us the opinions and thoughts from some 75 filmmakers to garner their views on film versus digital as they compare the two mediums “Side by Side.”

This is a film lover’s film as Reaves and company fathom the depths in the controversy of film and DI with interviews with directors, cinematographers and actors. Some, like David Lynch and John Cameron, turned their backs on film years ago in favor of digital images. Others claim that film, and all of its inherent qualities, will keep the medium around for years to come. The debate, for the film buff, is pure treasure.

“Side by Side” does not just deal with the controversy and debate, though. It also skillfully shows the start to finish processes in making a movie on both film and digital. The processes are worlds apart and the very nature of each is fully explored. This is one of those debates that show points from view from both sides and both have valid arguments in favor of one or the other. Technology marches on and, while we love the look and quality of traditional film, the age of digital is upon us it seems.

The list of players in this marvelous documentary is astounding and too large to list. Suffice it to say, Reaves has the top filmmakers in the world giving their two-cents on a subject near and dear to me. I give it an A.
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