Side by Side

One wouldn’t necessarily expect Keanu Reeves to be as much an expert on the art of filmmaking as folks like James Cameron, George Lucas, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, David Lynch, Danny Boyle, Steven Soderbergh, and Martin Scorsese, but in the documentary Side by Side, he’s a very knowledgable window into the artistic and technical processes these individuals go through when making movie magic. It’s a very “inside baseball” debate—covering issues and decisions mostly stemming from the choice between shooting a film digitally or on photochemical film—but for cinephiles like myself, it’s a must-see for both informational and entertainment purposes.

Side by Side touches on nearly every aspect of the filmmaking process, which only emphasizes what a minor miracle the whole thing is. From shooting and reviewing takes to editing and coloring, the “digital revolution” has changed what filmmakers and their crew can and can’t do. For example, when shooting on film, cinematographers hold a great deal of power because takes can’t be reviewed by directors until they return from the development lab the next day. While most of the filmmakers interviewed agree the process of reviewing dailies is quaint and sometimes magical, it can also be a burden because if a small mistake is made, the moment and environment can’t necessarily be recaptured in order to remedy it.

But is reviewing takes on a small, on-set screen indicative of the true movie-watching experience? People like Christopher Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister don’t think so. This kind of intelligent discussion is at the heart of Side by Side. Each interviewee has an opinion on the matter because this is their life’s work. The film does a good enough job at weighing the pros and cons of each format, though it ultimately sides pretty decisively with digital—which is the format chosen by the film’s director, Christopher Kenneally, incidentally.

The $64,000 question for Side by Side is whether or not its audience is too small to earn any sort of theatrical attention. I think those who like movies will like what the film says and the depth it goes to in describing the process, how its changed over time, and how its impacted some of the biggest names in the business. And one would think there’d be enough clout among its subjects to get it out there. Whatever its fate, I recommend the film without qualification. It’s not a documentary that tackles a hard-hitting social issues, but it’s one that’s quite important to me, and I’m guessing, most of you, and no matter where you fall on the film vs. digital debate, it’s essential we know exactly where the craft is heading and why.

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