Side By Side Film Review

Side By Side Film Review
Digital cameras and editing machines have revolutionized the world of feature filmmaking. Although the title of the documentary “Side by Side” refers to the co-existence of digital technology and photochemical film, digital has won the war. Movies shot on photochemical film are now in the minority. More than 50% of cinemas have converted to digital projection. All of the major manufacturers have stopped making cameras that use film stock. In “Side by Side”, directors, cinematographers, and actors discuss the consequences of the digital revolution.

There are advantages and disadvantages to going digital regarding the quality of the image. George Lucas, who gives an extensive interview, makes the point that photochemical film is at the zenith of its development. Digital is in its beginning stages. This means that the dynamic range in digital, the contrast available between dark and light, is constricted compared to photochemical film. Continual improvements in the production of digital cameras, however, are increasing the dynamic range available to cinematographers.

Digital cameras are also lighter, less expensive and more portable than film cameras. Because they are equipped with monitors, the images can be played back immediately instead of sent off to the lab to be developed. This allows directors and photographers to make instant adjustments. Director Joel Schumacher discourages actors from watching every take, though. He feels it leads to self-conscious, unnatural performances.

Actors have had to adjust to another facet of digital moviemaking. A film camera can shoot for approximately ten minutes before it needs to be reloaded. Digital cameras can run for about forty minutes before the sensor or chip inside needs to be replaced. John Malkovich prefers the longer takes allowed by digital as he dislikes the disruptions for camera reloading and set-ups. Keanu Reeves, who narrates “Side by Side” and conducts many of the interviews, prefers film.

Digital technology has had a huge impact, of course, in the creation of visual effects and computer generated imagery (CGI). Film clips from the “Star Wars” series and “Avatar” are used to demonstrate some of the possibilities. 3-D movies have also experienced a rebirth. Does digital technology lead to an over-manipulation of images? Will it destroy the humanity of storytelling onscreen?

Questions also remain unanswered concerning the storage of digital images. The constant creation of new formats and players means we may be able to save movies but then have no way to watch them. “Side by Side” makes the point that images captured on film one hundred years ago are still viewable; one only needs a light source to see them.

“Side by Side” follows the filmmaking process from beginning to end, discussing production, editing, distribution, projection and storage. Keanu Reeves interviews a wide range of directors and cinematographers, a few of whom proclaim the superiority of film. The prevailing opinion expressed, however, is that digital is the future and any moviemaker who does not embrace it will become obsolete.

“Side by Side” was written and directed by Chris Kenneally. It was originally released in 2012 and is now available online and on DVD. I watched it on Netflix at my own expense. Review posted on 6/12/2015.

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