In Side by Side, Christopher Kenneally takes on the ever-contentious topic of 35mm film versus digital video by exploring the development of each and comparing them, as the title says, side by side. The movie opens with an air of mourning for the death of film, and continues on to examine everything from when Arriflex stopped investing in film technology to when the first RED camera was released, and beyond. But perhaps most interestingly, Side by Side examines this subject from the standpoint of film-making careers and how they have been affected—explaining how positions as diverse as editor, cinematographer, film archivist, developer, colorist and projectionist have been changed—for better and worse—by the digital sea change of the last decade or so. Side by Side is good for what it is—a fairly straight-forward documentary that asks the question, “Has film met its end?”
So, has film met its end? It’s a question that can stoke some pretty intense discussions, and while one should not expect to hear anything new on the debate, the established talking points are delivered via a plethora of familiar film faces. Kenneally solicits commentary on the subject from a veritable pantheon of cinematic giants, including recurring cameos from the likes of George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, James Cameron, Lena Dunham and more. To top it all off, the man on the question-giving end of the microphone is Keanu Reeves. For his part, Reeves makes for a rather passive interviewer, but it’s hard to fault him for it—who wouldn’t be a bit intimidated talking to the people who have helped shape cinema’s history? Those few moments when it seems Reeves may offer a rebuttal against the responses of his interviewees are quickly abandoned with a quick chuckle and change of subject. (Perhaps more failed to make it past the cutting room floor.) This is unfortunate, as it would have been interesting to have seen some heated debate, especially amongst such revered industry figures, rather than the usual documenting and holding forth of talking heads.
Nonetheless, anyone who is interested in the history of film technology and cinema can certainly take something away from Side by Side, even if it is just learning the opinion of Robert Rodriguez or Danny Boyle. In fact, Kenneally’s film is a crash course for filmmakers, to the extent that it boarders on lecture at times. (The definition of what a Director of Photography is goes one for at least five minutes.) Still, its appreciation of detail and definition are to be applauded, and while the current crop of filmmakers might not find much inspiration—or at least much they didn’t already know—the next generation likely will.
Director: Christopher Kenneally
Writer: Christopher Kenneally
Starring: Derek Ambrosi, Michael Ballhaus, Dion Beebe, Keanu Reeves
Release Date: Aug. 21, 2012