You know that moment when you start to watch a documentary, not knowing if it will be any good, and then walk away with your jaw on the floor as the credits roll? That was me last night. If you're interested in the film VS. digital debate; the progression of technology; where things are going for visual media; cinematography; how the media we use to create images affects how we feel about what we see or watch (and why), or how changes in the photographic industry have influenced cinema, you positively, absolutely need to check out Side By Side. Like, now.
Narrated and produced by Keanu Reeves, this doc has actually been out for a while now, but I just happened across it on Netflix this week and gave it a go. Talk about almost totally snoozing on a gem, this was easily one of the most engrossing documentaries of the year for me. The impact on what’s going on in the movie making industry, and (importantly) how that affects all of us, from image conceptualization through to content creation and curation, is covered.
The trailer can be seen here:
Keanu does a great job as interviewer as he speaks to some of the crème de la crème of great American and British cinema directors, editors and cinematographers. He takes a bit of a no-holds-barred approach to his interview style. I guess as a long time Hollywood vet, he doesn’t feel any need to pander to any of the big guns he is talking to, or isn’t intimidated by them at least. It feels like he just wants to get to the nub if the topic at hand. I know he’s grown up making films, but I don’t think there are that many actors who are really that interested in finding out whether the impact of the 5D and it’s video capability has been a positive thing or not for film making world.
He ends up chatting to the likes of a few people you might have heard of - Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, Christopher Nolan, Danny Boyle, David Lynch, Richard Linklater, David Fincher, George Lucas and Robert Rodriguez, to name a few. They all voice their thoughts openly and candidly too, this is straight talking, no messing about kind of material. Keanu doesn’t stop with the director set either - he peels back the layers and speaks to the cinematographers, editors, VFX engineers and film colorists who have all been affected by the change a digital work flow environment has brought to the art and craft.
The astounding thing about the doc is that it never takes a position over which medium is better to make movies on. It largely stays objective and just gives us the open thoughts and emotions of those who have lived and breathed the industry. It simply aims to lay out a very clear view of where we have come from, where we are now and what the future might hold for both film and digital, and it succeeds on all fronts.
Whether you think shooting film provides a better texture or dynamic range to your images than digital ever could, or whether you just love the freedom that comes with digitization, this documentary can teach us all something about the art and craft of image making. I don’t do movie reviews but if I did, I’d give this an straight 11 and three thumbs up (which is probably why I don’t do movie reviews).
Enjoy, and let me know what you thought in the comments once you’ve had a chance to check it out.