Unless you’re lucky enough to have a predisposition for the more information-packed subject matters like history, your ability to enjoy a documentary that is built on a history-lesson narrative depends greatly – as it does when you’re in school – on the teachers. And, if you can believe it, Keanu Reeves proves to be the perfect Virgil to your Dante through the evolution of film as a medium and how the art of filmmaking has been forced to transform itself for better or worse in accordance with the technological horserace of the last fifteen years. Under the direction of Christopher Kenneally, Reeves picks the brains of the most popular and prestigious names in the filmmaking industry, from George Lucas and James Cameron to Christopher Nolan and David Lynch, to find out everything from whether they support the transition to digital cameras to how they really feel about the 3-D boom.
Reeves guides his audience through conversations with the film industry’s foremost directors, and other craftsmen as well, as they weigh in and provide a pure and balanced spectrum of viewpoints. One can’t help but wonder how all of these people agreed to participate – whether it was because of Reeves of Kenneally – even though there are some notable folks missing, like Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino as well as animation-focused minds like Tim Burton and John Lasseter. The central subject matter though is photochemical versus digital filmmaking, with detailed diagrams and explanations provided for a fuller understanding of the subject, like the best episode of “How Stuff Works.”
Side By Side does an excellent job of zipping through a minefield of drudgery though the talking-heads format might leave something to be desired for the average audience and as such it wouldn’t be likely to draw viewers outside of the realm of cinephiles and shoptalk nerds. But it is interesting enough, with interspersed clips of recognizable and well-loved movies, as well as heated enough, with interviewees letting their respective hearts publicly bleed for which ever side they advocate towards, that any wayward watcher should enjoy it. The thing to admire most about this movie is that even though the potential of snobbery looms like a big black rain cloud over this hot pop-culture topic Kenneally covers both sides of the argument so evenly that it would be impossible to determine his personal preferences; such objectivity is a rarity and is something to be lauded and aspired to as far as documentary filmmaking is concerned. Anyone who loves movies should make time to see this one.