“No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls” – Ingmar Bergman
Film or digital? A question that’s been hotly debated within filmic circles ever since George Lucas declared the original celluloid format was dead back in 2002. This decade of discussion compelled enthusiastic writer director Christopher Kenneally to create a documentary that investigates the histories, creative processes and relevance of each format while also presenting the polarizing opinions from both camps, side by side.
To create his documentary Kenneally teamed up with Keanu Reeves, who he met while working as a post-production supervisor for Henry’s Crime. Having signed on as a producer it’s immediately clear that the experienced actor was enthusiastic for the project; it’s refreshing to see someone who is usually the subject of the lens be so openly passionate about filmmaking and the work that occurs on the other side of the camera.
The real triumph was casting Reeves as the film’s central figure to conduct interviews with a terrific range of industry professionals, including some of modern cinema’s most exciting and influential directors from Christopher Nolan and James Cameron to David Lynch and Danny Boyle.
By using someone the filmmakers are familiar with, Kenneally establishes a level of comfort which encourages the professionals to speak freely about the subject. Impressively, Reeves never lets his personal opinions or relationships override the project’s sentiments, remaining professionally impartial throughout the investigation.
Tackling a large subject of film vs. digital is no easy task, particularly because it raises several additional areas for discussion. This documentary traces the history of both mediums of filmmaking, the moment of convergence where the digital revolution was sparked and also takes time to show the continual progression of technology and the potential future of cinema. Side by Side covers a lot of ground, but to Kenneally’s credit, every tangent is treated with an appropriate level of time and effort, but continually relating back to the central argument.
And what makes Side by Side such compelling viewing is that despite remaining so inherently linked to film it never once assumes too much of its audience. This excellent documentary is as appealing to film enthusiasts, who enter preloaded with technical understanding, as it is to an entry level audience. With the aid of Reeves’ insightful voice over, every piece of jargon and terminology is explained not only by definition, but supported with visual examples of scenes from popular films.
Side by Side is an ode to cinema, a film for film lovers, that equally invites popcorn audiences to begin appreciating film in a different way; not only on its face value as entertainment, but exploring the creative processes, techniques and most significantly the direction it will be heading in.