At a bit over 90 minutes, ‘Side by Side’ is probably just about the length it needs to be in order to remain engaging, enjoyable, and informative without feeling either rushed or overlong. But I’d love to watch some of the hours and hours of interview footage that didn’t make it in.
‘Side by Side’ seeks to represent both sides of the argument that is currently happening between proponents of traditional, physical film stock and proponents of digital film. It’s a divisive issue in modern filmmaking and the documentary (produced, narrated, and featuring interviews conducted by Keanu Reeves) does a great job of introducing the major points of contention. It covers the transition from physical film to digital film as it began in the 1970’s and discusses the ramifications of the idea that digital film is now perceived to be an inevitability. In the process, it brings a number of aspects of filmmaking to the forefront, including cinematography, editing, and color timing. It introduces all of these topics with admirable ease and discusses them in ways that are technical enough to be informative without becoming overly complicated or difficult to understand for people outside the industry.
While the filmmaking in the documentary itself is lovely enough, the main draw for ‘Side by Side’ is the unbelievable list of interviewees who participate, which includes directors, cinematographers, visual fx artists, editors, producers, and more, all of whom offer wonderful insight. The participants include legends and modern-day heroes alike, such as Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh, David Lynch, Christopher Nolan, Danny Boyle, George Lucas, James Cameron, and more. It’s really an amazing lineup, and just hearing the perspectives of so many influential filmmakers is worth a viewing on its own.
The documentary does a nice and sometimes (likely intentionally) humorous job of cutting together opposing viewpoints on the same issue. Just after hearing one interviewee eloquently describe the artistic merits of digital filmmaking, ‘Side by Side’ will immediately cut to someone else flatly dismissing the entire issue in favor of physical film. It’s a lot of fun and thoroughly thought-provoking.
‘Side by Side’ eventually seems to come down in favor of an optimistic futurist perspective, noting that digital technology allows for the democratization of art and infinite artistic possibilities, but it goes to great lengths to present both sides of a complicated, passionate argument.