Once in a while, a non-fiction documentary will absolutely take hold of me and envelop me in its narrative. This does not happen because, simply, I do not seek out documentaries as my main source of film entertainment. Sure, I find myself watching (and immensely enjoying) Oscar-nominated documentaries each year (Amy and Winter on Fire are two examples of documentaries that I found to be greatly enjoyable), but the amount of traditional, narrative-based films that I view each year far outweighs the number of documentaries that I see in that same year. Nevertheless, documentaries are a very effective film-making genre, and one which I always find myself enthralled in each time I view a particularly effective one. In the case of the Keanu Reeves narrated Side by Side, examining the history and battle between traditional (film) and digital film-making, this is one of the better documentaries I have seen in a while.
The crux of the film is the ongoing battle between digital and traditional ways of filming. Now, while one might be able to assume that digital is winning that battle very quickly (and I believe it is), it is refreshing to see that there are film-makers out there who are willing to work harder to preserve this soon-to-be-lost art. A personal example for why I believe chemical film is the more effective storytelling tool is my experience watching Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, The Hateful Eight. I doubt that my experience and memory of that film would be as positive if I did not see it in 70mm IMAX, with the inclusion of an intermission. The experience of viewing a film shot in this traditional way will always feel unique to me, but I do recognize that at this point in film’s short life, this experience is now a novelty, and will never be the new normal. All things considered, experiences like these will probably only become more rare as time goes on, and I will definitely mourn the loss of traditional film-making, even though it is objectively less versatile than digital capture processes.
The reason why I think this film is so incredibly effective in its presentation of its narrative, which is completely unbiased (a great positive in a genre such as this), is because of its wide range of interviewees. They range from personal favorites of mine who may not be very well known (Greta Gerwig, for example) to industry juggernauts (Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, and George Lucas, to name a few). What this film tells me, above all else, is that film is an intensely personal medium of expression, and truth be told, the debate between digital and negative-based film-making comes down to personal taste and preferences. If one looks closely, each format (if one is familiar with the bodies of work of most of the filmmakers featured) is both ideal and beneficial to all of these filmmakers’ respective styles.