Ever wonder what would happen if Keanu Reeves met David Lynch? Look no further than Christopher Kenneally’s probing doc about the movie industry’s changeover from celluloid to digital—and check that cracked seventh seal while you’re at it. Reeves interacts with a remarkable number of filmmaking technicians and talent (Vittorio Storaro, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher and Michael Ballhaus, among many others) throughout this involving, talking heads–heavy tour of the epochal technical shift that cinema is currently undergoing. His Zen-surfer demeanor turns out to be a perfect balance for what is still a touchy, ever-evolving subject.
Fear not if you don’t know your Panavisions from your Reds or how many pixels make up a hi-def Bandersnatch. The technical side—which encompasses everything from hand-cranked film cameras and photochemical color-timing to digital intermediates and 5K imagery—is always clearly, concisely laid out. What’s more impressive is the plurality of voices, pro and con, that Side by Side captures with full evenhandedness. Devout celluloid advocates like Christopher Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister air understandable frustrations about the new technology’s many inferiorities, while digi-proponents like Steven Soderbergh and James Cameron expound reverently on the cutting-edge mechanics that allow them a newly unfettered creative freedom. No side overwhelms the other in the back-and-forth; you feel more like a profoundly uncertain moment is being marked, with little concrete sense of the outcome beyond mankind’s enduring hunger for moving pictures.
Follow Keith Uhlich on Twitter: @keithuhlich