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Review: 'Side by Side' traces digital revolution

Keanu Reeves adds his star power to this documentary about the transition from film to digital.

August 16, 2012
  • Keanu Reeves and Martin Scorsese in "Side by Side."
Keanu Reeves and Martin Scorsese in "Side by Side." (Tribeca Film )

It sounds a bit kooky — Keanu Reeves acting as producer, narrator and onscreen interlocutor for a documentary on the transition of industrialized filmmaking from a photochemical process to a digital one. Keanu Reeves?

Yet the doc"Side by Side,"directed by Chris Kenneally, turns out to be a sharp, useful primer on the history of digital imagemaking and the rapid transition away from film happening throughout the production workflow of making movies.

Whether out of their own interest in the topic or Reeves' gravitational star-pull, those who participate are an impressive who's who that includes directors Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, James Cameron, David Lynch, David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh and Andy and Lana Wachowski as well as cinematographers Michael Chapman, Vittorio Storaro, Reed Morano, Bradford Young and Anthony Dod Mantle.

The film is not so much positioned as pro-digital as simply gauging where things are, with the most vocal pro-film representatives being filmmaker Christopher Nolan and his longtime cinematographer Wally Pfister. Representing the younger generation of digital natives are Lena Dunham and Greta Gerwig.

Reeves seems to ask the right questions of the right people, and the shots of him clutching a sheaf of papers with his trademark expression of quizzical surprise are consistently charming.

Though some acknowledgment is given to the interrelated issues of exhibition and preservation, the focus here is really on production, and it is that sense of professional talking to professional that is one of the film's greatest strengths.

For anyone who is a true fan of movies — do we still call it film when it has gone totally digital? — "Side by Side" is a handy overview of recent seismic changes occurring within the industry and unexpectedly essential viewing.

Mark Olsen

"Side By Side." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes. At Laemmle's NoHo 7, North Hollywood. On VOD beginning Aug. 22.

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