Weekend Roundup: Side by Side Documentary Review

Happy Monday, everyone! Hope y’all had a nice weekend. I skipped the cinema again this weekend as it’s quite a hectic one with my hubby Ivan’s triathlon on Saturday morning and we also had people over for dinner this weekend.

But Friday night we had a chance to check out the documentary we’ve been wanting to see for a while. I posted the trailer a while back, check it out if you haven’t already.

Keanu at Berlinale

This is an insightful and thoughtful documentary produced and narrated by none other than Keanu Reeves. I’ve always thought that Keanu is one of those actors who are far more intelligent than meets the eye, and despite his stoic style, I quite like him as an actor and enjoyed a lot of his movies. Here he collaborated with Christopher Kenneally who previously worked with him as production manager in Henry’s Crime to direct the film. I think Keanu is the perfect person to conduct all the interviews, not only has he worked with a variety of directors in over 50 films, he’s also got that friendly, laid-back personality that would help make all the directors feel at ease discussing this hot-button issue. It’s nice to see Christopher and Keanu’s passionate curiosity on this topic as they asked some honest questions on both sides of the spectrum.

Oh I’m sure Nolan would be happy to continue making more 70 mm films, but man those are expensive!!

Does digital kill film?? That’s the key question that’s running through the vein of this film as it investigates the history, process and workflow of both digital and photochemical film creation. It was certainly insightful for people like me who don’t really know much about the technical aspect of film and just what it took to get a film from the set all the way to the reels being delivered to our local cinemas. It does get quite technical at times which went over my head a little, but it’s always fascinating and they did a good job presenting it in layman’s terms with simple charts and graphs. There are also some footage from participating directors shown as examples.

Keanu had a pretty impressive list of filmmakers discussing digital vs. film, George Lucas, James Cameron, David Lynch, David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh, Danny Boyle, the Wachowskis, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, etc. as well as famed cinematographer such as Wally Pfister, Vittorio Storaro, and Anthony Dod Mantle who won an Oscar for his cinematography work in Slumdog Millionaire. There’s also a fascinating interview with Anne V. Coates who edited the 70 mm film of Lawrence of Arabia! I read in Movieline.com that apparently Nolan was the toughest to get for this film, but he got a kick out of Keanu’s snail mail letter using an old-fashioned typewriter. So Nolan agreed to be interviewed during filming The Dark Knight Rises in L.A.

As a cinephile, of course the best part is listening to the arguments each of the filmmakers makes on each of the two form. It’s no surprise that Nolan and Pfister would be the biggest defense of celluloid and that Lucas and Cameron are the champions for digital. But most of them realize the art and beauty of traditional film, but yet can’t deny the power of digital, not to mention the financial benefit and convenience of being able to film scenes that were impossible to do before. For instance, Danny Boyle shared the filming of the exquisite Westminster Bridge scene [undoubtedly one of my favorite scenes in London], and how it’d have been impossible to film those without the use of digital cameras. Scorsese seemed gleeful at the infinite possibilities storytelling could go with digital technique, having just been immersed in 3D technology with HUGO. Seems to me that according to this documentary, there are more filmmakers who are more pro-digital, even David Lynch likes the fact that digital cameras allows him to film for more than 10 minutes at a time.

The film seems pretty comprehensive in discussing the merit of the two forms, it even went briefly into related aspects such as coloring and archival process. Yet it seems to gloss over what it’d all mean to the local movie theaters and the effect of the digital process affect them as more movie studios are pushing to abandon 35 mm film. My dad used to work as a projectionist before he got into film, but that’s surely going to be obsolete now, as most films are going to be projected digitally in no time.

Wherever you are in the film vs. digital debate, this documentary is a must-see for you. No matter how articulate one’s argument about 3D though, I’m still not fond of it until they can figure out how people could see 3D films without those pesky glasses. And for me, whichever form they go with, the most important thing about a movie is still and will always be, the story. I sure hope no matter how advanced film technology goes, filmmakers won’t ever forget the art of storytelling.

4 out of 5 reels


Have you seen this film? Thoughts on the digital vs. film topic?

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43 thoughts on “Weekend Roundup: Side by Side Documentary Review

  1. Heard of the film. It was shown as TriBeCa FF. but did not see it. It is an interesting topic. Obviously both forms have their merits and vices. There is the otherworldly quality that celluloid has but it is rather bulky. Digi projection has portability going for it as well as a crispness and clarity of detail. Mark Kermode writes eloquently on this very topic in his latest book The Good the Bad and the Multiplex.

    • Yeah, TriBeCa was the main sponsor or even distributor of the film. I thought DeNiro would be one of the actors interviewed but he wasn’t in it.

  2. Didn’t realise this had already been released. I’ve always said I need to see more documentaries…. they’re usually very interesting and at least one would always end up among my favourite movies of the year. This one is even more interesting because its about film….

    • I didn’t even know if it ever got released on the big screen. Suddenly I saw on Twitter that it’s available on iTunes. It’s definitely a doc worth seeing, Asrap.

  3. Sounds interesting. Like you, i think the storytelling is the most important aspect. As long as its all used in service of the story i don’t think the format is a deal breaker for me

    And i think once they figure out how to do 3D without glasses it will be a lot more popular, although the price might still keep it from being commonplace. Especially with the current economy

    • Yeah, people like Rodriguez seems to be more concerned with the format, ahah. For me, just so long as the story is intriguing, the format is not as crucial for me. 3D is expensive though, like you said, so yeah, I could definitely forgo that one for now.

  4. Sounds like an interesting film, though I’ve gotta say that Keanu Reeves is one of the last people I would have expected to narrate something like this. Personally, although it’s not all too feasible, I would love to see more 70mm films. Seeing The Master in that format just blew me away… the difference is like night and day.

    • I second on more movies being film with 70mm but unfortunately not too many 70mm theaters are around anymore. In fact, we have none here in MN. Only IMAX but that’s not the same the same thing. The last movie I saw at a real 70mm theater was T2: Judgement Day but the movie was filmed in Super 35mm not 70mm, they just upconverted the picture to 2.20:1.

    • Hey, no dissing on Keanu :) Y’know I think he’s smarter than people give him credit for, and I think his curiosity for this debate really comes through here. He asked some honest questions on both sides. I should add that in my review.

      Oh I’m sure Nolan would be happy to continue making more 70 mm films, but man those are expensive!!

  5. Fantastic review Ruth. I only recently became aware if this film and it’s right up my street. Thanks for such an in-depth write-up. This has rocketed high up on my list to see now.

    • Thanks Mark. Hope you get to see it soon, it’s quite fascinating and entertaining to see the personality of each director being interviewed. I really respect those who have such strong convictions defending the format they believe in.

  6. Nice review Ruth, I’m definitely going to rent this doc. As you know I’m a techie so this would be great to hear all these big named directors talking about their prefer format to shoot films in. But like you said no matter what format they chose, the story is the main thing. I don’t care if they shot a film with IMAX or Digital, if the script sucks then it doesn’t matter.

    • I think you’ll appreciate this one very much, Ted.

      Yeah, without a compelling story, it really doesn’t matter how good a movie looks.

  7. I’d seen this film pop up here and there recently, but I didn’t know what it was about. This certainly looks like a must-see.

    In terms of film vs. digital, I’m all for switching to digital. Movies can still be shown in theaters digitally (with great picture quality I might add), so I have no problem with it. Also, it’s easier to use and cheaper than film, both in terms of shooting and archiving.

    Great post Ruth!

    • Yeah I’m leaning towards digital myself, and eventually that’s where everything is going as it’s so much cheaper than celluloid. It’s amazing how tedious the film processing takes, waiting for the dailies for days before finding out the scenes didn’t work, etc. I have more appreciation for classic movies now considering how tough to get those made. Can’t imagine how they did 3 hr plus movies like Ben Hur!

  8. Interesting doc, I don’t watch a whole lot of documentaries but I might have to look this one up. Is there much commentary about independent/low budget filmmakers, considering that digital is way cheaper and easier to come across than film?

    • Hi Bubba, yeah there is an interview with the filmmaker who made a small film, I forgot the name, but she said she wouldn’t have been able to make this film without digital cameras. There were a few indie directors being interviewed, some were film students even. So it’s got a nice mix of famous and up-and-coming filmmakers.

  9. That sounds really interesting! Good to know Keanu is still working, he seems like a good guy and his recent films were sadly unremarkable.

    • I like Keanu though he gets a bad rap. I am looking forward to his upcoming film 47 Ronin. I think he’ll still be working for a while yet :D

    • Hi matey! Glad to have you back. Looking forward to reading your new posts. I’ve been to FRC a couple of times the past few days but there hasn’t been anything new.

      Yes I highly recommend this one, Scott.

  10. It’s not a question of if, just a question of when. Digital is the present AND the future. Film will fall into the kind of things artsy hipsters use to feel cool.

  11. I really hope film doesn’t become what Castor described above. And I’m getting tired of so many people calling random activities/desires as things only “artsy hipsters” would do. It’s unfortunate that film is dying. I can’t stand attending a screening and before the film begins, you see at the bottom a Windows tab bar.

    • Hmmm, I’ve never seen a Windows tab bar before a film, that certainly makes it seems less artsy, ahah. It is unfortunate that film is dying Sam, but again to me, as long as the art of storytelling is still thriving, to me that’s all that matters.

  12. Nice review. The doc sounds very interesting, especially the aspect of hearing what all of these legends have to say in the matter. I agree that story is the most important thing and everything else is secondary.

  13. I Love the way you wrote this review Ruth…you really make me want to see it. Apart from being hosted by one of the most handsome man in the world, it also talks about interesting subject.
    Too bad I never see the DVD here :( maybe I should DL it

    • Hi Nov, I was hoping you’d drop by. I know you love Keanu and I do like him too. He doesn’t always look handsome here, sometimes his unruly beard gets distracting, ahah. I want to go into the screen and shave ‘em off! He looks better clean shaven like the pic above, can you believe it he’s almost 50?! In any case, yes the topic is fascinating indeed, a must-see for lovers of cinema.

      • Unfortunately…that bearded him is his most comfortable look…for him ;)
        He mentioned it once that he rather looks like that than all tidy in suit.

        Amazing isn’t it!! almost 50 and still looks dazzling ;)

  14. Funny, last week I was thinking about this documentary and couldn’t remember the name of it. Glad to see you liked it. Unfortunately it is not available internationally yet. So I still have to be patient unfortunately….

      • I couldn’t even find the name using google…didn’t help I didn’t remember much about it except that it had to do with digital vs analog.

        I contacted the makers and they are still negotiating for the release over here…so will be patient for a bit.

        • Yeah the name isn’t that interesting actually, but the topic certainly is. Best of luck with getting it released there Nostra. Otherwise you could watch it via iTunes, that’s where I got it.

          • If only I could as that was the way I was planning to watch it using my apple TV, unfortunately iTunes is separated in various territories and it’s not available in the Netherlands.

            • What??! I did not know that. I wonder why that it, are they afraid to get pirated? I guess I understand that in third world countries like Indonesia they might be hesitant to have it readily available but should at least be available in Western Europe?? Bummer Nostra!

              • The idea is that they won’t be able to sell it as easily to distributors anymore, which I kind of understand, but it doesn’t help if you really want to see it :)

  15. To that end, one more famous holdout, Martin Scorsese, seems to have fallen from the side of digital, which is interesting, if not, a total surprise, given that in the “Side By Side” doc, Scorsese is one of the few filmmakers who sees the value in both (most of the directors interviewed are either/or).

  16. Have just seen the trailer today and looking forward to it. Where did you watch this, Ruth?

    As an audience myself, in indonesian cinemas i have only ever experienced watching 35mm and digital. Still prefer digital though. While watching 35mm we can see some kind like cutted scene when they had change of reel during the movie.

  17. I can’t wait to see this. This is like a documentary lover and film geeks dream come true! Hope I might get a better understanding after watching this.

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