Documentaries are a difficult thing to properly critique. You must differentiate the quality of the information they are conveying from how successfully they are actually conveying it to the audience. It must also be objective in how it presents its information to us. If it favors one side over another then it ceases being a documentary and suddenly becomes an opinion piece. In the case of the new documentary from director Christopher Kenneally "Side By Side", it succeeds at providing both an entertaining method of delivery and imparting knowledge about the future and history for one of the worlds most loved art forms while refraining from giving us an opinion on the subject. Narrated, produced and hosted byKeanu Reeves, the documentary starts things off with the question of the moment, "Digital versus film, which is better?". If that question means nothing to you then the information that lies within its dense hallways of celebrated and renowned filmmakers giving their two cents on the matter should intrigue the uninitiated even more while helping to fuel the fire for those that feel passionately for one over the other.
Casting Reeves as the host of ceremonies was an ingenious move on the part of the documentary makers (of which Reeves himself had some hand in as a producer for the film). His relaxed demeanor and knowledge of film as a seasoned actor is invaluable when faced with picking the brains of some of the worlds greatest filmmakers on one of the most debated subjects in film history. When faced with such intimidating personalities as David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, George Lucas and David Lynch, Reeves conversations with them elicit some honest answers about each filmmakers feelings towards creating their movies on either digital or film. In truth, this is the most personable the notoriously emotionless actor has ever seemed which gives each interview he conducts with the multitude of directors a more natural flow than your standard Q & A session.
Reeves is just our gateway into this heated subject though. All the filmmakers questioned give valid points both for and against the digital age to the point where it is difficult to come down on one side of the fence in the end. Director Steven Soderbergh points out that digital presents filmmakers with a much more efficient means of storage for their work but also admits that it is very likely that some data may get lost. The most alarming part of this is how he is actually alright with that margin of error which is just crazy. But just when you are ready to jump on the digital band wagon in comes a voice of reason from Christopher Nolan who points out that perhaps there is a methodology to the film process that effects the final cut, that perhaps seeing immediate results isn't such a good thing, that perhaps a director needs to sleep on it before making rash decisions per say.
It's not just directors giving their thoughts though. Cinematographers, actors and editors all weigh in with how this changing of the guard either positively or negatively effects their work. Like with the directors, some see it as a breath of fresh air and others see it as a way of cheapening an art form. All of their opinions give new insight into both sides of the argument and lend themselves to a way of thinking that perhaps both formats should coexist and just let anyone use what they feel comfortable with. However, after discovering that actual film cameras are no longer made, the grim reality starts to sink in that digital will eventually take over completely relegating anyone who wants to use film as more of an artistic choice than an obvious one.
Ultimately the film, like any good documentary, leaves it up to you the viewer to decide which is the better format. Providing compelling insight into the subject, going over the history of film and why it is so near and dear to so many filmmaker's hearts, it is easy to see why there are those in the film industry so adamant in keeping with tradition but in this case the nature of the beast seems like it will be its ultimate undoing. What that means is that filmmakers are generally very tech savvy and want to play around with the new toys so inevitably they will unwittingly partake in the killing the very format they wish to preserve. All of this has only scraped the surface of what "Side by Side" has in store for those yearning to understand the argument better and both celluloid and digital film enthusiasts need to see this immediately.