out of Five
Running time: 98
A riveting, informative and extremely entertaining documentary about the digital vs celluloid debate that's a must-see for anyone interested in films and filmmaking.
What's it all about?
Directed by Chris Kenneally and co-produced by Keanu Reeves (who also narrates and serves as on-screen interviewer), Side By Side traces the history and impact of digital cinema, noting key events along the way, such as the Dogme movement being the first to embrace shooting feature films on digital cameras (with 1998's Festen), George Lucas' decision to film Star Wars Episode II on digital or cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (Festen's cinematographer) becoming the first DOP to win an Oscar for a film shot on digital with 2008's Slumdog Millionaire.
Aside from a few brief sections on the technical aspects of various different digital cameras, the film is told almost entirely through talking head interviews with a host of filmmakers ranging from directors (including Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, Lars von Trier, Danny Boyle, James Cameron, David Lynch, George Lucas, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Robert Rodriguez and Lena Dunham), cinematographers (such as Anthony Dod Mantle, Wally Pfister, Vittorio Storaro and Michael Ballhaus) editors (Anne V. Coates) and actors (Greta Gerwig, John Malkovich) to special effects technicians. The film also explores and discusses elements of projection and archiving/storage, with the best way to store a film turning out, ironically, to still be on celluloid.
Reeves proves an excellent interviewer, asking challenging questions and getting great material out of each of his interviewees (frankly, the sight of Keanu interviewing Lars von Trier alone makes the film unmissable). The film is also careful to get balanced views, though only Christopher Nolan and DP Wally Pfister emerge as actively anti-digital and a couple of notably pro-celluloid champions (such as
Quentin Tarantino) are notable by their absence.
The film packs an awful lot of technical information into its 98 minute running time, but director Kenneally pitches the tone exactly right, never patronising the audience but illustrating the various processes with the liberal use of charts and helpful onscreen graphics. The film also uses several illustrative film clips, ranging from silent films to present-day, graphics-heavy 3D movies such as Avatar.
The film is packed with great moments and anecdotes and it's fascinating to hear individual directors such as David Lynch or Danny Boyle talking about the moment when they became digital converts. It's also amusing to hear actors like Keanu talking about their reasons for not liking digital, with the primary reason being that there's no down-time between takes (Reeves recalls begging Richard Linklater to stop shooting during A Scanner, Darkly, for example, while David Fincher recalls Robert Downey Jr leaving jars of urine around the set of Zodiac as a sort of protest for having to work all the time).
Side By Side is an engaging, decently paced and highly informative documentary that's a must-see for anyone interested in filmmaking. Highly recommended.