A couple months ago I had the fortune of working with high school photography students; and when I say photography I’m not just talking about the process of taking photos, but the processing and developing negatives and film prints as well. Yes, that stuff that we used to put in our cameras up until about 10 years ago. This recent experience made me realize that kids today are growing up in a world where something as physical and as analog (and what to me seems like common knowledge) as film is becoming something of an antiquated notion and one of those things that we can now refer to as something we used “back in the day.”
With the advancement of consumer digital cameras, most people under the age of 20 have grown up in a world where photography is instantaneous and at your fingertips. Things weren’t always this way though. Maybe it was fortuitous then that I recently heard about Side By Side; a documentary that that looks at the way digital technology (and more specifically digital cameras and photography) has affected the movie industry. Narrated and produced in part by Keanu Reeves, the documentary is an interesting and candid look at how filmmaking has changed in the last 10-15 years with the advent of digital cameras and digital filmmaking techniques.
Film synopsis from the Side By Side website:
Join Keanu Reeves on a tour of the past and the future of filmmaking in SIDE BY SIDE. Since the invention of cinema, the standard format for recording moving images has been film. Over the past two decades, a new form of digital filmmaking has emerged, creating a groundbreaking evolution in the medium. Reeves explores the development of cinema and the impact of digital filmmaking via in-depth interviews with Hollywood masters, such as James Cameron, David Fincher, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, and many more.
The doc takes viewers through the entire filmmaking process, from the building of sets and capturing performances, through the post production process, to exhibition in theaters, to the final step of archiving a film. At each step of the way the film looks into how the process was done traditionally with film and how digital has changed process today. The film as a whole is very accessible and is not bogged down by technical jargon and interviews with filmmakers are done in a very conversational manner.
Some of the more interesting tidbits from the film . . .
- Danny Boyle was excited to shoot with digital cameras on Slumdog Millionaire because there are things you can do with digital that you couldn’t with film. For him, digital allows for more unconventional use of the camera, greater portability, and is cheaper to use.
- Slumdog Millionaire helped to further the advancement of digital filmmaking as it was the first all digital film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
- George Lucas pushed digital filmmaking technology when he decided to shoot Star Wars – Episode II using only digital cameras–the first film ever to do so.
- The changing nature of shooting movies on film mirrors the way consumers are viewing film/movies . . . at home on HD TVs, computers, and portable electronic devices.
At the heart of the film is the question of “film vs digital” and the filmmakers involved basically state their cases for using film or shooting digital depending on what they prefer. While there is no clear answer to this central question in the film, the issue is definitely divided with valid reasons on both sides for using a particular format. However, throughout the documentary you definitely get the sense that the days of filmmakers shooting on film are numbered. Take for example Christopher Nolan, director of the The Dark Knight trilogy, who prefers to shoot his films on film. He can make (and get) this request since he’s made tons of money for Warner Bros. However, with the continued development and evolution of digital, that option may soon not be available to him.
Filmmaking has always pushed the technology that filmmakers use to create their films. From the doc you get the sense that in our ever growing digital world, digital cameras and tools that filmmakers have today will be honed, refined, and will continue to evolve so that the quality of digital cinema is equal to the quality of cinema as seen on film.
For the average moviegoer though, many of this stuff may not matter all that much. As long as you get that large image projected on screen and as long as the sound is loud and doesn’t cut out . . . that’s what most people will look at. This debate of film vs digital for the most part is something that the film industry itself is dealing with. With that in mind, I can’t recommend this film to everyone. It’s definitely a must watch for film geeks or cinephiles; or anyone even remotely interested in the art of film or filmmaking. While casual moviegoers would be able to understand the topics discussed in the film, much of it might not mean all that much if you’re not already interested in what’s going on.
The film as a whole is pretty well done and very well put together. Keanu and company interview a wide range of directors, each of whom has his or her own take on the art of filmmaking. In fact, this is the area where the film probably shines the most: in the filmmaker interviews. Each one gives candid and honest remarks about their craft and definitely chooses a side in the ongoing debate of the film.
For me personally though, do I have a preference of one or the other (film or digital)? In the end, no I don’t. I’m neither pro-film nor pro-digital. I’m pro-theatrical experience. As long as filmmakers have the tools that they need (whether it’s film or digital) to tell the stories that they want to tell . . . all I’m concerned with is how that is presented to me. Side by side, film and digital are like two different roads that ultimately lead to the same destination. At the end of the day that’s what it really comes down to; the movies . . . and how we enjoy them.
Side By Side will be presented this Friday, November 16 at the Doris Duke Theatre at the Honolulu Museum of Art as part of the their Friends of Film Friday program. The film will be introduced by Dr. Peter Britos, Director of Media and Cinematic Arts at Hawai‘i Pacific University who will also lead a Q&A after the screening. Side By Side is also currently available on video-on-demand services such as Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.
Star rating-3.5/5 // NR // 1hr 39min