Christopher Kenneally’s Side by Side (2012) is a timely and level-headed look at the challenge the digital process presents to century-old photochemical filmmaking. Coming at a crucial turning point for cinema and featuring interviews with some of cinema’s most important contemporary directors, Side by Side functions as an essential state-of-the-nation view of filmmaking; taking stock of the past and looking to the future. By neither patronising the audience nor ascribing too much knowledge, Kenneally and interviewer Keanu Reeves strike the perfect tone, creating a film which is both informative and entertaining.
Side by Side charts the development and process of both digital and celluloid production with remarkable vigour and meticulousness, demonstrating that the technological decisions made in filmmaking are just as creative and vital as the artistic ones. By focusing on film history from a technological point of view, Side by Side offers an intriguing alternative narrative for the last hundred years of cinema; one in which Miguel Arteta’s Chuck & Buck (2000) and Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen (1998) are deemed worthy landmarks for their pioneering approaches to technology.
Side by Side’s even-handedness is its greatest asset. The fear of obsolescence brought on by the advent of digital may have propagated a myth of its inferiority to celluloid, but the film goes some way to counterbalance that notion. By showing figures as diverse as Anthony Dod Mantle and James Cameron extolling the virtues of digital, the audience is presented with a vision of a versatile medium capable of democratising filmmaking at the lower end of the scale, and creating huge spectacles at the top. The doc further suggests that merely focusing on the aesthetic aspects of the respective media is reductive; the medium changes the whole way a film is made, from acting through to post-production considerations.
At the heart of Side by Side is the encouraging idea that, whatever the technological developments, the future of filmmaking is safe provided we trust the artist. What truly resonates in the film is the passion and vision of the directors and cinematographers interviewed, regardless of their preference for digital or celluloid. The threat to filmmaking comes from the obsolescence of technology; Side by Side argues that, provided a choice of media remains, we have nothing to fear. It’s a brilliantly erudite and compelling piece; essential viewing for anyone with an interest in film.
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