Side by Side (2012)


This fascinating documentary takes a look at the birth and evolution of digital cinema technology and compares it to film, considering the advantages and disadvantages and exploring the future of both. What makes this documentary particularly strong is the people it acquires to participate in the discussion, no doubt as a result of Keanu Reeves playing interviewer and investigator and also co-producing the film. Legendary filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese and David Lynch happily discuss the topic as well as more controversial figures such as Lars Von Trier. Danny Boyle, Steven Soderbergh, Robert Rodriguez and Christopher Nolan all add their opinions to the equation with David Fincher livening things up with some colourful expletives. But it’s not only high calibre directors included, the documentary gives plenty of screen time to the lesser known but equally as talented people such as cinematographers, editors and colour correctors who are highly prolific in the industry.

This thorough film is not afraid to go in-depth in terms of technology but explains it all simply and effectively. The investigation begins with cinematography and the job of a director of photography, or DP, and how digital technology has integrated itself into this realm. Then editing is focused on, followed by visual effects, then colour correction and projection with an in-depth look at cameras too. The documentary also considers the ever popular topic of 3-D and the complexities of archiving.

Beautifully illustrated with clips from well-known films, points are made and contradicted by others, offering a multitude of perspectives on the current climate. Festen (1998), the first Dogme 95 film, is discussed and considered highly important due to its use of handheld digital camcorder, introducing a new aesthetic to filmmaking. It seems much of the reasoning behind digital comes down to money. Film is money and each take counts. John Malkovich reveals how there is “too much waiting with film”, that you lose “momentum”, with digital you can go on and on. So we see the situation from the actor’s point of view as well. But as a couple of people point out, the use of film and its importance means actors step up their game. It is easy to see both sides of the story presented to us.

Scorsese states that the “real auteur of a film is the projectionist” and we hear how Titantic (1997) played so long in theatres that the film literally fell out of the projectors in bits. It is these little insights into the mythical world of film that make this documentary a league above others for film fans. The film flows consistently and easily shifts from one area to the next, although Keanu’s hairstyles are less consistent, clearly changing drastically from one interview to the next, adding a source of amusement to the film.

Side By Side has a light-hearted but extremely informative approach and any fans of cinema will appreciate the clips and the rare insight into their craft by master artists from a variety of disciplines. Even those who feel knowledgeable about the topic are sure to gain more of an insight into this area and enjoy the interviews. Considering it is a documentary about an art form though it does lack any creative flare and aesthetics of its own but that is the only real criticism.

This would make an excellent resource for teachers and students of Film, although students of a certain age due to the language used, and contains plenty of food for thought, leaving the audience to decide for themselves. It is a thorough documentary with enough entertainment throughout to prevent it ever becoming dull. It was a real treat to see some of the film clips on the big screen and a delight to hear some iconic and also lesser known filmmakers discuss their craft. An extremely relevant and topical documentary.

Director: Christopher Kenneally
Stars: David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Danny Boyle, James Cameron, Keanu Reeves
Runtime: 99 mins
Country: USA

Film Rating: ★★★★½

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