Side By Side is a documentary that looks at the film industry’s gradual shift from film cameras to digital cameras. That simple summary makes it sound like it must be the most boring thing in the world. For many, I’m sure it would be. However, nearly all the industry’s top directors sit down with Keanu Reeves (Woah) and have a chat about their personal history with both old fashioned movie making, and their impressions of all the ways digital methods and computers have revolutionized the industry over the past 30 or so years.
My standard Documentary Disclaimer applies once again. Very, very few documentaries are interesting if you aren’t at least moderately interested in the subject matter going in. If you don’t enjoy dogs, don’t watch a documentary that delves into the learning patterns and behaviours of man’s best friend. If the behind-the-scenes processes of movies is less interesting to you than watching paint dry on growing grass… please, don’t think that a glowing endorsement from me means that this is the movie for you.
And this movie does indeed get a glowing endorsement from me. I enjoyed watching and listening to the stories, ideas and opinions of some of the most celebrated (and despised) names in Hollywood. It would be easier to name the directors I know by name that don’t appear in this movie than the ones that do. Christopher Nolan, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Robert Rodriguez, Stephen Soderbergh, Andy Wachowski, David Lynch, David Fincher, Danny Boyle and more appear to offer their thoughts. Many of their preferred Directors of Photography (DPs), Editors, and Color Timers are also asked to give us insight on the Film Vs. Digital debate. Several young “up and comers” also get to throw in their two cents. So many people from so many different jobs are covered here that I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised to see Keanu (Woah) set up a camera and start interviewing the guy selling the popcorn about how the Digital Revolution has affected the temperature of the “butter”.
That’s part of what makes this movie work so well. Keanu Reeves (Woah) does an excellent job interacting with these moviefolk. Obviously some are directors and DPs he’s worked with before, and that likely makes it a bit easier. He’s clearly been given a script of questions to ask them (he’s holding it in his hands pretty much every time we see a shot of him), but whenever they’ve bothered to edit him in to remind us he’s the one asking the questions, he seems to be doing a remarkable job making the questions his own. In addition, since almost everyone being interviewed is on one side of the argument, or the other, Keanu’s (Woah) questions seem to support the opposing side of whoever he’s talking to. In these moments, his tone adds just enough sarcasm and humour to his delivery to show us he’s actually having fun being The Devil’s Advocate.
I feel dirty.
Of course, it’s a fairly common sense assumption, I think, that in order to survive in Hollywood in any capacity you have to be incredibly passionate about the craft of making movies. So it should be no surprise then, that the real secret of what makes the film work is watching artistic people wax philosophic about the importance of their medium. Some of these guys are super serious, some are light hearted, but they all clearly love what they do. Some seem to have legitimate concerns for the future of the
film movie industry and the absence of film. Others are having a blast building the foundation of, in their minds, a whole new medium.
In addition, if you’re mildly interested in the hows and whys of film-making, but you’ve never been to film school, taken a film study course, or watched any other documentaries on film-making, you’ll also learn some great How’s It Made?-level information on the workings of cameras, the filming process, the editing process, the color timing process and other things of that nature from both before and after the Digital Revolution began.
Another thing I found interesting is that it seemed to me that the documentary’s director, Christopher Kenneally, tried to emulate the styles of some of the directors Keanu (Woah) was talking to as he filmed them. Danny Boyle is shot from multiple angles, and edited together with pretty rapid cuts for a documentary. A film student is interviewed on a shaky handheld and doesn’t always stay in frame or in focus. Most of the directors are shown from just one, maybe two angles, with an average, documentary style medium shot, where the DPs are often low angle close shots.
The film’s only flaw worth mentioning is that it’s clearly biased. The film definitely gives voice to both sides of the debate, with both pro-film and pro-digital movie makers chiming in. The problem is the pro-film folks’ message doesn’t seem to carry as much weight with the viewer (at least, not with this viewer). Perhaps it’s just a reflection of the industry as a whole as it stands today. Maybe there aren’t enough film-makers fighting against digital, or for film, anymore. The movie certainly left me with that impression, anyway.
Biased or not… this is definitely an entertaining, informative documentary about movie making, film and digital cameras, and all the various looks Keanu Reeves (Woah) sported in the last 2 or 3 years.