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Side by Side

2012 | 99 min | Not rated | 1.85:1

Side by Side


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Theatrical release date

 24 August, 2012
 15 February, 2013

Country of origin

 United States



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Side by Side Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, September 13, 2012

There’s a revolution going on in Hollywood today, and I doubt few outside the industry are paying any attention to it. Enter Keanu Reeves, who’s determined to explore the changing landscape of moviemaking as it switches from a photochemical film process to a digital one, taking viewers through a history of production advancements and discoveries, interviewing most of the directors who’ve already taken position on the front lines of the fight. “Side by Side” is technical, possibly only of value to true cinephiles, but it’s a vital education on the highs and lows of film vs. digital as the medium moves into an exciting new direction of creative access and picture clarity.

Directed by Christopher Kenneally, “Side by Side” takes an unusual step by emphasizing its narrator and interviewer, Reeves. If you’re currently thinking that the once and future Ted “Theodore” Logan is an odd choice to orally guide a documentary on the possibilities of the digital frontier, I completely agree. Nevertheless, while a little on the droning side, Reeves makes for a swell screen docent, working through a history of moviemaking that dates back to the late 1880s, where humankind first developed a taste for visual storytelling. It’s been a long ride for the film-based process, which has seen its fair share of changes and breakthroughs, yet, as the decades passed, a rise in digital equipment began to creep into view (debuting in 1969 and developed into its recognizable form by Sony), promising ease of use and financial relief, doing away with cumbersome equipment and wasteful expenses. It was a gradual climb to legitimacy, yet digital managed to hold its position, building from curiosity to demand over the course of the 1990s.

“Side by Side” dissects the differences between the formats, breaking down the elements that bring images to life, while understanding the divide between the faith of celluloid and the immediacy of digital -- a difference between loading a 10-minute-long roll of film to achieve a moment’s work and the eternity of shooting on a computer system, where anything goes for as long as the director sees fit. The extraordinary change in technology has altered the jobs of key production roles, with “Side by Side” isolating the painstaking work of cinematographers, editors, and colorists, who now have a plethora of opportunities to create exceptional visual experiences with the push of a few buttons. The documentary also tracks the advancement of digital cameras, from the commercial-grade machines used to give life to the movies of the Dogma 95 movement in the late 1990s to the HD sorcery employed today, inching closer to matching the sensitive structure of film.

The highlights of “Side by Side” are the conversation with legendary craftsmen, with directors such as Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, David Lynch (who really needs to start making movies again), Steven Soderbergh, David Fincher, and the Wachowski Siblings sitting down with Reeves to discuss their feelings about the format changeover, with most open to the challenges of making digital come alive, while a loner like Christopher Nolan remains unimpressed, maintaining his fondness for film. We also hear comments from the likes of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, madman Lars Von Trier, and devout HD practitioner, Robert Rodriguez. The chats can be quite opinionated, especially from George Lucas, who has singlehandedly jumpstarted a filmless future, using one of his “Star Wars” prequels, 2002’s “Attack of the Clones,” as a proving ground for experimental equipment. From the disgusted look on his face, it’s possible film once bullied Lucas in high school.

Talk of digital distribution and the role of the projectionist closes out “Side by Side,” which also reinforces the role of the storyteller at the core of the format debate, trusting that somewhere in the midst of the revolution, strong, capable dramatic voices will still be able to find their way. Only now, it will be a whole lot easier to put their dreams on the big screen.

Starring: David Fincher, Lars von Trier, Christopher Nolan, David Lynch, Robert Rodríguez, Danny Boyle
Narrator: Keanu Reeves
Director: Christopher Kenneally

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