Chris Kenneally's "Side by Side" (2012), with the narration of Keanu Reeves (one of the producers) has such an impressive lineup of interview subjects for a documentary -- Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, David Lynch, Lars Von Trier, Lana and Andy Wachowski. The documentary is an expertly assembled debate surrounding the movie industry's transition from celluloid to digital film-making. the question it poses to us : Is film dead? That is, is the photochemical film, the standard for 100 years, rapidly on its way to being replaced by digital technology? The answer, more or less at the end is a "yes."
Before getting into a detailed review, the only problem i felt with this documentary is that, if as a movie-lover you have never grasped the differences between film and digital to know what’s what, then this movie muddles more than it clarifies. There's not a moment in "Side by Side" in which one format is juxtaposed with the other. It was also shot with a digital camera.
Kenneally and Reeves, though doesn't take any firm stand on these debates, they seem to accept that most of these changes are inevitable. James Cameron, Fincher, David Lynch, George Lucas, Steven Soderbergh, Richard Rodriguez, Danny Boyle and Anthony Dodd Mantle (Boyle’s current regular Cinematographer) -- all speak on behalf of digital side. They are arguing that the film is bad, they are just saying that these digital cameras are easy to maneuver. With the 35mm camera, the film-makers had to wait a whole day for footage to be processed in order to see what they have shot.
Martin Scorsese makes a valid argument that the advancing amount of artificial world on screen (created by digital cameras) may cause viewers to process everything as fiction, without any appreciation for images captured organically. George Lucas and Cameron, the ingenious directors who have pushed the digital boundaries of storytelling makes the case for the new tools as an artistic necessity. “I wanted whatever we imagined to be something we could realize,”says Cameron. David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, Social Network) notes that digital advancements will never get in the way of good storytelling.
Nolan (Who vastly prefers film) and his cinematographer Wally Pfister talk about the warmth and depth film provides. They also fret that once it's gone, digital can never replace it.Whereas, Robert Rodriquez annotates that he never would have been able to make “Sin City” without digital capabilities.The Wachowski's, who embraces the changing medium, represents the movie-makers of style over substance.
We also get to know a lot about new generation high-definition cameras -- from Panavision, Arriflex, Canon, to the recent array of Red cameras. The director also takes us inside the production facilities of these companies. It may seem surprising to hear someone as old-school as Scorsese to talk about his exhilaration on working in a digital age. Although he filmed "Hugo" in digital he doesn't give a testimonial for digital. We also get to know the views of some of the greatest cinematographers -- Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor), Michael Ballhaus (The Departed, Goodfellas), Ellen Kuras (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) -- excellent editor -- Anne V. Coates(Lawrence of Arabia) and wizardly sound designer and editor Walter Murch.
"Side by Side" is a delight to watch because it brings us all onto the movie set, into the editing room and behind the camera. Watching these great film-makers talking about the art that they so obviously love is an indispensable treat for movie-lovers, all over the world.