Side by Side (2012)

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The big hitters from the world of cinema way in on the digital debate in this documentary helmed, rather improbably, by Keanu Reeves. Side By Side is sure to intrigue cinephiles.

Cinema is in a state of flux. Digital technology now sits alongside the age-old format of photochemical film in the production, development and storage of motion pictures. Executive producer and presenter Reeves has shunned his surfer-dude ways to hunt down some of today’s principal filmmakers and technicians. They consider the history and future of the industry, and pose the question: is film dead?

Side By Side is a straight-laced documentary formed of movie clips, behind-the-scenes footage and talking heads. But the roll call of talent – that includes David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, Lars von Trier, David Lynch and James Cameron among others – is staggering and their input makes for a wholly interesting discussion. It’s fascinating to see just how much opinions differ among the filmmaking elite. In the digital corner there’s Steven Soderbergh, in the other is the celluloid-championing Christopher Nolan. I’d like to be a fly on the wall if the two ever meet.

The documentary charts how the advent of digital technology has revolutionised production, editing, cinematography and special effects but also the way in which films are exhibited as the film processing industry declines. An animated sequence depicting the photochemical process was particularly insightful. The rigid, unambiguous nature of a megapixel is juxtaposed against the grains of chemicals that frantically mill around on a 35mm print. It’s strange (but wonderful) to think that films are actually alive!

The debate reminded me of an interview with Francis Ford Coppola in the seminal ‘making of’ documentary Heart of Darkness who (after the infamous difficulties of shooting Apocalypse Now) predicted this new age of filmmaking. He said,

‘One day some little fat girl from Ohio is going to be the new Mozart.. and make a beautiful film with her father’s little camcorder and, for once, this whole professionalism about movies will be destroyed for ever – and it will really become an art-form.’

There may, as yet, not be an Ohioan child prodigy but the director’s statement was profoundly prescient. Smaller and affordable digital cameras has meant that filmmaking has become accessible to almost anyone and has allowed professionals to be more creative; surely a good thing. The argument though is that the art form itself has changed – and its purist practice will always culminate with the sound of a reel of celluloid ticking through a projector. Watch Side By Side and decide for yourself.

Side By Side is in cinemas 15th February 2013.

Director: Christopher Kenneally
Writer: Christopher Kenneally
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Danny Boyle, James Cameron, George Lucas, David Lynch, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Lars von Trier, Steven Soderbergh, Christopher Nolan
Runtime: 99 min
Country: USA

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

1 Comment
  1. Kevin Matthews says

    I definitely need to see this soon.

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