Watching More Movies: Keanu Reeves Interviews Top Directors in ‘Side By Side’
I’d never held a film camera until I was in college. Prior to that, it was only digital. Either a video camera with a mini-VHS tape in it or eventually one with a mini-DV tape. I made some short films and a music video with these as it was the only option for me. In college, I took one film production class and we had to use actual film. We took some shots with an 8mm camera, the instructor had them developed and we then took parts of our classmates films and edited them by hand using a moviola and setting out little shorts to instrumental music. If I needed to do it again now I’d have no clue what I was doing, but I could certainly shoot and edit recorded images digitally. “Side By Side” is a documentary tackling the differences between film and digital.
The film is largely a talking head documentary with questions lobbed by Keanu Reeves. These interviews, combined with clips and some Reeves voiceover, piece together the potential revolution of digital filmmaking replacing celluloid movies. It’s not that the revolution isn’t already upon us. There are interviews with directors like David Fincher, George Lucas and James Cameron who have shot multiple films with a digital camera and continue to push the technology forward for their own purposes, as well as for their colleagues and future filmmakers. At the same time, there are talks with celluloid holdouts like Christopher Nolan and his longtime Director of Photography, Wally Pfister.
It was a huge coup to get the top directing and cinematographic talent, as though I’m interested in the subject matter, if two amateurs are discussing these things, regardless of their knowledge, I couldn’t care less. In that, it was probably necessary to recruit someone like Keanu Reeves, who’s worked in this business and has all the contacts enabling him to get these interviews. Though he’s often dismissed by the critical community as an actor, he comes off as thoughtful, knowledgeable and genuinely interested here, possibly unlike many A-list actors who lend their voice talent to documentaries. Reeves puts himself in the Michael Moore/Morgan Spurlock role and it helps convey the intrigue in the material.
It’s odd to see where people fall down on this issue, especially when two directors I greatly respect, Fincher and Nolan, come down on opposing sides of film versus digital. I want to side with my favorite directors, but they’re arguing against each other. Though he certainly would’ve dominated the conversation, I would love for someone like Quentin Tarantino to have been a part of the film (though I’m sure they tried hard to make it happen), though he’s made his film stance very clear in the past few years, stating if film is no longer an option, neither is his directing. I’m positive film will go the way of the dodo, but hopefully long after directors like Tarantino and Nolan are no longer capable of performing their art.