The Chosen One for August 17, 2012 – Side by Side

Side by Side (Tribeca Films)
Written and directed by Chris Kenneally
Starring Keanu Reeves, Danny Boyle, James Cameron, David Fincher, George Lucas, David Lynch, Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, Lars Von Trier, The Wachowskis
Rating: 8.5/10

The first time I saw this doc at the Tribeca Film Festival, it seemed like a bit of an anomaly because it was pretty strange to hear Keanu Reeves’ voice talking about film stock and digital filmmaking technology, let alone watching him interview all the award-winning filmmakers and cinematographers they managed to pull together for the movie. Once you get past that, it’s a fairly thorough primer on filmmaking and how the evolution of technology has changed how creative types capture their art.

It’s the definition of a talking heads movie but the status of filmmakers who talk to Keanu are incredible, including David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas and Danny Boyle, and they are all passionate about their decisions to shoot with digital or film. Accompanying these interviews are great sequences from some of the best-shot films being used as examples.

The film also covers how digital technology has changed enough so that film purists have made a full-on transition to the newer technology, although it also lessens the necessity of the cinematographer to know how to light stuff for film vs. digital. Christopher Nolan and his cinematographer Wally Pfister, who both are included in the discussion, are the clear holdouts for photochemical film.

The film touches upon so many aspects of digital filmmaking from Anthony Dod Mantle’s use of digital video while shooting Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Celebration” and how the Dogme 95 ethos evolved into shooting Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” and then “Slumdog Millionaire,” the first movie to win an Oscar for cinematography shot on digital. If you’re a fan of Danny Boyle’s work, it’s fantastic to hear the stories of doing those movies, not to mention hearing James Cameron and David Fincher talking about how they worked with camera manufacturers to alter the cameras to meet their needs for “Avatar” and “The Social Network.” Reeves is a solid interviewer who is able to make the subjects comfortable enough to talk freely.

The movie also gets into other aspects of filmmaking and how they’re affected by the switch to digital, including editing and visual FX. The one process that never really clicked with me until I saw the movie was color correction, something we mainly heard about at footage presentations at Comic-Con as part of a disclaimer from the filmmaker. “Side by Side” actually explains how color coders can digitally change the colors of things that were shot after the fact, which essentially can change the original vision of the cinematographer on set. (Both the filmmaker and cinematographer are involved with this process.)

The irony is that this doesn’t seem like a movie that absolutely must be seen on the big screen–hence the VOD release–but it is mandatory viewing for anyone who loves movies and has any interest in learning more about how they’re made and how that’s been changing in the last few years.

Side by Side opens in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Noho 7 and then it’s available on Video on Demand August 22, as well as in other cities on August 23.

Look for our interview with Keanu Reeves later this week.

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