Film is dead, or is it? With major distributors in USA going digital this year in lieu of film, the death knell has been sounded that perhaps it's not too long before celluloid film projection is a thing of the past, and with it comes digital filmmaking, production, distrbution and projection. But does it have to be that way, and can both mediums co-exist to satisfy the various sections of the creative market? Produced by Justin Szlasa and Keanu Reeves, the latter who was here in Hong Kong for a masterclass, Side by Side is the documentary written and directed by Christopher Kenneally, that deep dives into both sides of the equation.
And who better than to interview those who have dabbled with both mediums? What made this documentary a compelling watch is Keanneally's ability to cover an entire range of topics related to this issue, tracing the history of both mediums, especially the digital one, and giving depth into backgrounds, reasons and rationale taken from those who have dealt with both old and new technologies. Having Keanu Reeves turn into the interviewer works in both levels of attracting the casual viewer into watching this, as well as on the interview front, made it easy for filmmakers to relate and open up to one of their own, as they talk about the medium, how it impacts filmmaking, and from acting in front of the camera, the camera technologies themselves, and the case for distribution and exhibition, weighing in on the pros and cons at every stage.
These filmmakers and crafts people are none other than the who's who of Hollywood luminaries, such as James Cameron, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Robert Rodriguez, Christopher Nolan, Danny Boyle, Richard Linklaer, David Lynch, Joel Schumacher, Steven Soderbergh, Lars von Trier, and both Lana and Andy Wachowski whom Keanu Reeves made the prolific Matrix trilogy. And it's not just directors, but also containing interviews with editors and cinematographers such as one of my personal favourites Wally Pfister, who together with Nolan stand on the side of celluloid, famously resisting Warner Bros' attempt to turn their lucrative Dark Knight projects into the digital or 3D formats. Listen in to the discussions on how there's power play when rushes are to be seen the next day, compared to the digital now-and-present that allows one to correct something immediately.
While one may get distracted by the star studded lineup, we get to see how each are so passionate about the medium they believe in, and the compelling arguments they make for and against their case, listening from the horse's mouth of those who are in the industry, together with the satisfaction gained and challenges they face. For instance, like Fincher, digital filmmaking gave rise to cameras that can be designed to cater to the nature of the shots he had intended, without which films like The Social Network, or The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, cannot achieve certain shots or have the camera angles so desired. Everyone provided their own memorable soundbites when they engage in this discourse, so much so that you'd soon find everything that's being said becoming terribly sexy and seductive in their arguments.
But Conneally does an excellent job in not allowing any one filmmaker to run away with the presentation he so decided, allowing arguments to be made and the viewer to form his own conclusion. The pace moves at breakneck speed, hardly every pausing just like how digital filmmaking has directors almost never calling it quits because the medium has run out, as you the audience will definitely find an area in which you have little knowledge of, but thanks to this film and its incredible breadth adopted for its scope, you're bound to come out of it a little bit enlightened about the entire technical process, the evolution of filmmaking technologies, as well as gain new found appreciation for those who are so passionate in their filmmaking that it's automatically shown in the final cut they put out for projection.
No film related topic was taboo, as the documentary also took a look at archival processes, which contains a little bit of an irony. If there's a flaw to this wonderfully made documentary, it will be that its focus is still inherently Hollywood's own, since there is a distinct lack of interviews and gathering of content outside of Tinseltown. Perhaps an apt follow up to this would warrant a lot more interviews to be done with filmmakers around the world, but I'm guessing most of the responses will already have been covered by the mammoth scope here (and whose filmmakers are at the forefront of technology given geeks like Cameron), and at best appear as supplemental discs should this ever be released on DVD format sometime soon. Definitely highly recommended viewing for everyone, film buffs or otherwise, with great material yet to be seen in upcoming films included as well.