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Should I Watch..? 'Side By Side' (2012)

Updated on April 5, 2022
Benjamin Cox profile image

Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.

Poster for the film
Poster for the film | Source

What's the big deal?

Side By Side is a documentary film released in 2012 and is directed by Christopher Kenneally. Co-produced by Justin Szlasa and actor Keanu Reeves, it examines the history and usage of both digital photography and traditional photochemical film in movie making and gathers opinions from a wide spectrum of Hollywood movers and shakers about the future of both mediums. Does traditional film really have a place in a digital future? It premiered at the 62nd Berlin Film Festival and was also shown at the Tribeca Film Festival, Hong Kong International Film Festival, Maui Film Festival, Munich Film Festival and the Sydney Film Festival. Despite positive reviews from critics, it only opened in nine theatres in the US and after twelve weeks, had only made $58'825.


4 stars for Side By Side

What's it about?

Keanu Reeves takes us on a journey back to the beginning of cinema in the 1880's where movies were shot exclusively on photochemical film. In the last ten years or so, technology has finally caught up and allowed film-makers to shoot directly in a digital format - no reels of film, no clumsy splicing of scenes together, no messy chemicals required. This has had the dual impact of making it cheaper to make movies but also easier to shoot and edit and less time-consuming as well.

However, not everyone thinks that traditional film has had its day. Some film-makers believe that film produces a better image and that digital cannot replicate certain effects. Reeves conducts interviews with some of the greatest film-makers working in Hollywood today from James Cameron and Martin Scorsese to Robert Rodriguez to Christopher Nolan, revealing their thoughts and opinions on whether traditional film can survive the digital age.


What's to like?

It's unusual for Hollywood to look at itself in a serious light as any film which does tends to veer off into a more comedic vein like The Player or Sunset Boulevard. But in this absorbing documentary, the people behind some of the biggest and best movies for the past forty years speak passionately about the issues facing modern cinema - the advent of digital photography has enabled everyone to be able to shoot and edit their own movies, allowing a greater number of film-makers vying for attention. But it has also enabled directors to become more creative and explore the boundaries of this new technology like Cameron does in Avatar. The discussions, held between these brilliant directors and the likeable Reeves, are informative and interesting without feeling dumbed down to those of us not lucky enough to work in the industry.

You certainly can't blame the movie for a lack of opinions. As well as the cast listed above, we hear from John Malkovich, David Fincher, David Lynch, Steven Soderbergh, both Wachowski siblings, Richard Linklater, Lars Von Trier, Lena Dunham, Barry Levinson and even Joel Schumacher - and many more besides. The conversations feel natural instead of overly prepared and the rapport Reeves has with these people comes across in the picture.

Reeves is a surprisingly knowledgeable and informal host
Reeves is a surprisingly knowledgeable and informal host | Source

Fun Facts

  • Side By Side marks Keanu Reeves' debut as a credited producer (or co-producer, in this case). He had previously been an uncredited producer on a film called Henry's Crime, a romantic comedy from 2010 that quickly disappeared without a trace.
  • The documentary features clips from more than 80 other films throughout history from the famous stop-motion footage of a horse and rider to the likes of The Hunger Games and The Dark Knight Rises.
  • Director Christopher Kenneally is more regularly seen as a post-production supervisor on productions like Cadillac Records and 13 as well as TV series True Detective.

What's not to like?

While they might address these issues in the various extended interviews that have since been released, the final cut of Side By Side has one or two omissions and also spawned a few questions that I felt weren't answered. Naturally, you won't find every big Hollywood director or producer in the documentary - no Tarantino, Spielberg, Weinstein, Bruckheimer or Zemeckis for starters. But I felt that a bigger problem regarding digital film had been largely overlooked - the ease of film-making has also made it easier to distribute films and viewers are increasingly watching their favourite films over the internet or on their tablets or phone instead of visiting the local multiplex. It has also helped to fuel a rise in piracy which affects everyone. But the film only briefly flirts with these issues before going back to its "celluloid vs digital" argument.

Other than that, I didn't have too much of a problem with Side By Side which was more interesting than I was expecting. I did feel that the soundtrack was too intrusive at times and Reeves seemed to be sporting a different amount of facial hair at random times through the film. But apart from an obvious bias from the star of the first great digital action movie The Matrix, this is an illuminating look at something most viewers don't even consider.

As digital technology improves, have we seen the last of film?
As digital technology improves, have we seen the last of film? | Source

Should I watch it?

For people interested in cinema or film students looking to glean some wisdom from their idols, Side By Side is almost essentially viewing as it shines a fascinating light on the battle between the two mediums and the advantages they both have over the other. It's insightful, interesting and shows us that Reeves can do a lot more in a movie than shoot stuff and go "Whoa!". It might be a bit dry in places but it is worth a watch if you can find it out there.

Great For: film students, budding film-makers

Not So Great For: action fans, fidgety viewers, people who just want explosions

What else should I watch?

Side By Side is certainly an interesting watch but it's not exactly what you'd call entertaining. However, it is possible to get a documentary that still crams in the facts but also gives the viewer a good time. Probably the best of the bunch is Morgan Spurlock's worrying Super Size Me which looks at the health implications of an extreme fast-food diet as well as the marketing techniques used by McDonalds to entice us through the doors. The result is some sort of horrifying stunt where Spurlock forces himself to eat McDonalds for breakfast, lunch and dinner for 30 days. The effects were staggering, both on him and his health and me after I watched the film.

Music documentaries are always good value for money and one of the best is called It Might Get Loud which looks at the history of the electric guitar and its influence over popular music since the Fifties. On paper, it sounds a bit dull but who better to discuss it with than Jack White, The Edge and Jimmy Page? Oh and they have a little jamming session as well...

Main Cast

Keanu Reeves
Himself, host
James Cameron
Robert Rodriguez
Martin Scorsese
Christopher Nolan
George Lucas
Danny Boyle

Technical Info

Christopher Kenneally
Written By
Christopher Kenneally
Running Time
99 minutes
Release Date (UK)
15th February, 2013

© 2015 Benjamin Cox


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