Side By Side

By Christopher Redmond

Mailed on March 26, 2013

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Dear Chris Cassidy

Dear Chris,

I feel so sorry for you. It would have been intimidating enough to interview such influential fellow cinematographers as Vittorio Storaro, Vilmos Zsigmond, Ellen Kuras and Michael Ballhaus. Not to mention the undoubtedly surreal experience of shooting living Hollywood legends like George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, David Lynch, David Fincher, Danny Boyle and James Cameron. So I can't even imagine how you felt doing so with little off-the-shelf cameras like the Canon 5D and Panasonic HPX170, all while making a documentary that compares the merits of celluloid film and digital technology. Talk about bringing a knife to a gunfight.

That said, I'm sure you were forgiven. But that's part of the problem. Save Christopher Nolan, all the aforementioned directors have gone the way of 1s and 0s. To further bolster this camp, you have Robert Rodriguez (who couldn't stop shooting on film fast enough), Lars von Trier (who co-founded the anti-industry Dogma 95 movement) and the Wachowskis (known for pushing technological boundaries). Steven Soderbergh stands as one of the few defenders of the traditional medium - and he's given up on filmmaking altogether. This leaves two glaring omissions in the pro-film camp: Quentin Tarantino, who recently threatened to quit if he had to shoot digitally, and Steven Spielberg, who has vowed to always shoot and cut on film (expect for, you know, the times he doesn't). Including their voices would have added some much needed balance on the film side.

Not that it matters, since digital has clearly won this war. So what is this movie really about? Interview host and producer Keanu Reeves is certainly waxing nostalgic for the original movie-making medium, and has some help pointing out the still relevant virtues of film (such as archiving). But as the documentary tracks the improvements made by the RED One camera, the film vs. video debate that raged in the early 2000s is quickly being put to rest. The outcome might have been inevitable, but it was predictably unwelcomed by an established industry and purist enthusiasts.

Side by Side is most interesting when director Christopher Kenneally simply chronicles the evolving culture. Learning about the camera controversy behind Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones or hearing how upstarts like Lena Dunham feel digital is breaking down the old boys club are both illuminating. Apart from that, this is a pretty specialized documentary that has very little relevance to the general public. Much like film formats themselves.

I say all this being married to one of the most passionate and practicing defenders of celluloid film in Canada. She and I both hoped Side by Side would make a stronger case for film. Instead, it's more like a dispassionate eulogy. Sad, but true.

That's a wrap,


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