One of the documentaries screening at this year’s festival is Side By Side, an excellent exploration of how digital technology is taking over and revolutionizing the film industry, ultimately making the traditional celluloid that we have all grown up watching obsolete.
The film exhaustively traces the origins of the new digital medium from its beginnings as a microchip, it’s first major implementation in the industry with the work of the Dogma 95 group and the movie Festen (The Celebration) in particular, George Lucas’s pioneering use of it in his Star Wars sequels, to today when almost every major movie is shot on digital and camera companies have ceased manufacturing new film cameras. Almost every major film maker and director of photography working today is interviewed with two sides clearly being drawn up even though both acknowledge that digital has effectively already won.
The documentary is intelligently crafted and despite its brief running time covers all the necessary topics and speaks to all the right people. It is funny in parts and never less than fascinating. It’s only flaw, and it’s a big one, is that it isn’t content to only be about film vs. digitial, it’s also about interviewer Keanu Reeves (who also produced) and suffers because of it. He is constantly shown on screen as though he is the star of the film in the way that a Michael Moore or Werner Herzog is a prominent figure in their documentaries, but lacks the warmth, charisma and, frankly, the intelligence to pull it off successfully, and becomes an annoying distraction.
Gripping, intelligent and funny, Side By Side would be essential watching if it didn’t spend so much time being Keanu Reeves’s vanity project.
Side by Side is screening in the 2012 Melbourne International Film Festival. Check here for screening times.