Over recent years, evolving digital technologies have changed the face of filmmaking. From big budget studio tentpoles that utilise the latest CGI techniques to grassroots filmmakers picking up an affordable DSLR camera, digital has both expanded and democratised creative opportunity. And, with all parts of the workflow— from shooting to effects, editing and colour timing to delivery and exhibition—going digital, it is also having a monumental impact on the business model of the industry.
Despite all the apparent advantages, there are still plenty who are determinedly clinging on to 35mm, and it’s this fascinating divide that is explored in Side by Side. Keanu Reeves hosts a series of illuminating interviews with myriad directors, cinematographers, colourists, etc, all of whom speak eloquently and fervently about the medium, wherever their loyalties may lie.
What emerges is an overview of the ongoing battle between the two formats, an explanation of how much the industry is changing from those who understand what it really means. There is an impressive roll call of on-screen talent; an astonishing 70 participants, between them responsible for most cinematic classics of the last few decades. And while so many opinions could have created a melee, the doc has been broken down into manageable sections, such as effects and archiving—the one area in which digital is falling shockingly short.
Importantly, the film doesn’t assume to present a definitive answer to this debate; an impossibility given the fact that technology continues to progress apace. But, while the filmmakers acknowledge that they have simply captured a moment in this evolution, it is an utterly compelling snapshot.
While it seems that the writing is on the wall for celluloid—cameras no longer being made, film stock and developing labs in decline and increasing numbers of theatres going digital—there are still plenty of influential supporters of 35mm, who are determined that it can continue to play a part in modern filmmaking. Indeed, some of these may come as a revelation; Batman director Christopher Nolan’s determination to eschew digital for the ‘purity’ of film may be a surprise, given that he is at the forefront of modern studio filmmaking. Similarly, it’s unexpected to see so many of the so-called ‘old guard’ filmmakers singing the praises of digital.
That everyone involved has a clear love of cinema means that audiences are also granted unrestricted access to the skills, experiences and memories of some of cinema’s greatest talents—including many whose contributions to film often go unsung. This makes Side by Side hugely entertaining and accessible to even the most casual moviegoer, and absolutely essential viewing for anyone with any interest in films and filmmaking.