Side by Side review

Andrew Moraitis checks out star-studded (if you\'re into directors) doco, Side by Side, at the Melbourne International Film Festival.

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Digital photography, at least according to Christopher Kenneally’s documentary, is a
Rorschach for many filmmakers. David Fincher sees it as a means of further control over his sets, George Lucas views it as the next inevitable step for film, Steven Soderbergh values it as a tool of convenience whilst Christopher Nolan and his DOP Wally Pfister see it as a danger towards photochemical cameras. Whilst Side by Side is clearly sympathetic towards the possibilities the format, the documentary also suggests dangers, giving a broad assessment of digital’s values and deficiencies. This may not exactly sound like the highest praise, but Side by Side is probably one of the better DVD extras you’ll see.

Narrated by Keanu Reeves (who also conducts interviews), Kenneally’s film features
interviews with many industry experts, including cinematographers, directors, studio
execs, colour correction technicians and editors. The film is dry and unpretentious in its approach, utilising animation, film clips and making-of footage from professional and amateur productions to clearly explain the differences between digital and film, and the practical variations of the various digital cameras. For those not exactly familiar with the colour correction process or the reason for filmmakers to jump so readily into this format, this well-informed doco is a solid introduction.

The film is dry, considering the personalities involved (we suspect the extended interview between Reeves and David Lynch might have been the strangest, most esoteric interview ever caught on camera). However, it is refreshing to see a film not only willing to delve into some important debates in contemporary cinema, but to present a broad perspective on the effect of this technology on the industry. Whether or not you see digital as a “door opening” (as James Cameron suggests) or as simply another narrative “tool” (as Martin Scorsese argues), Side by Side is a worthy document of modern cinema.

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