Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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Side By Side

Film #158


The documentary investigates the history, process and workflow of both digital and photochemical film creation.

Year 1, Day 159

BEFORE: I have been looking forward to seeing this documentary for a while now. Side By Side is being shown at tonight’s BOSCPUG meeting here at Emerson and to focuses on a question at the forefront of the film industry: Can film survive our digital future? This debate has very opinionated people on both sides of the argument: those for film and its continuation (Christopher Nolan is a big supporter of this side) and those who are fully backing digital technology as the superior filmmaking medium (James Cameron is but one of these supporters). The film has actually been available in iTunes for a few months already but I never got around to watching it.

AFTER: With every documentary there are multiple perspectives that you can take and Side By Side is no exception. My perspective is as a film student with a lot of the technical knowledge and as someone who has shot on film but prefers digital. This is the view I’ll be writing most of this review based on but I’ll be mentioning how the documentary works well for other points of view as well.

Something that is done extremely well in Side By Side is how it goes through the history and technology of film. Even as someone who knows the information, it’s a great refresher and a great jumping off point to lead into the conversations that focus a lot on the processes and how they differ between film and digital. If this common ground were not established, the subsequent information about how the different mediums are used would be less coherent and lack comprehension. Since this basis was introduced early on and referenced throughout the film, it gave a great reminder to the broad concepts the documentary explores.

Another part of the documentary that was well done was the interviews. In the Q&A with the director Christopher Kenneally he said that they conducted around 140 interviews for the film and only 70 or so we actually included in the final cut. Both the amount of big names and the editing to bring them all together made for a credible, informational, and entertaining documentary, and really, a conversation about the state of the film industry. As I said there were over 70 interviews included and all of them were big names. James Cameron, George Lucas, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Martin Scorsese are just a few of the big names. And it wasn’t just directors; a lot of cinematographers were interviewed including Wally Pfister and Michael Chapman in addition to editors, producers, and even actors. With people like this, the credibility of their statements, and as a result the documentary itself, is readily apparent. And the way they were edited together, along with example clips from the films referenced, gave the documentary a great structure (almost a history of the industry and how things have evolved) while keeping things lively moving from person to person instead of dragging on and boring the audience with drawn out statements.

I mentioned earlier that I am a big fan of digital but I have shot on film (as a requirement for one of my classes this semester). I won’t go into a big discussion of my opinions, I think you should watch Side By Side yourself and draw your own conclusions, but I will say that the documentary reinforced some of my thoughts and made me revisit some others. I never want to shoot on film again (it is an extraordinary hassle) but I am grateful that I have had that experience. Especially after watching this documentary, I have a newfound respect for film and the processes behind it that I never had before. Still not a big fan, but I do see another side now and why people like Christopher Nolan and Wally Pfister are such big advocates of the medium.

Beginning to end, Side By Side is not only a technically well-made documentary, but it is also extremely informative, thought-provoking, and entertaining. If you know nothing or almost nothing about film, the history and workings of it, you will find Side By Side easily accessible. It provides a great foundation for beginners while not being repetitive for learned folk. And whether you’re a fan of film, digital, or undecided, Side By Side provides a lot of intelligent discussion from brilliant minds in the industry not only about these two mediums, but the filmmaking process as well. My recommendation should be obvious but I’ll say it anyway. Everyone should see Side By Side regardless of your involvement in or knowledge of the film vs. digital debate.

RATING: 5 out of 5