Side by Side
by Rania Richardson
Celluloid or digital film — which is the better format? Directors, cinematographers, editors and other film professionals weigh in on the question in Chris Kenneally’s densely packed new documentary.
The film’s producer and narrator, Keanu Reeves, sits down with an astounding number of Hollywood insiders at their workplace and elicits candid opinions on the state of filmmaking (past and present) to learn, in his words, “the impact on motion pictures and the way stories are conceived, created, and experienced.”
Master craftsmen interviewed include directors and cinematographers who frequently collaborate — such as Martin Scorsese and Michael Ballhaus (“The Departed,” “Goodfellas”) and Danny Boyle and Anthony Dod Mantle (“127 Hours,” “Slumdog Millionaire”).
A relentless stream of sound bites from the interviews, combined with educational footage on film equipment and processes, form a narrative that takes viewers through a history of film mediums and techniques. A broad picture is created by also questioning actors, curators, 3D experts, camera manufacturers and many others. There is a nod to inclusivity with interviews of female cinematographers Ellen Kuras (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) and Reed Morano (“Frozen River”) as well as African-American Bradford Young (“Pariah”).
Analog filmmaking is rapidly becoming obsolete, due to the ease, speed and economic advantages of working with new technologies. Even films shot on celluloid are now edited and visually enhanced digitally, and often projected that way. Director Steven Soderbergh, who regularly acts as his own cameraman, says that without the smaller, lighter cameras he would not have had the agility to hike through the jungles of Bolivia to shoot “Che.”
Not everyone is happy that the industry is moving away from traditional methods, particularly the relatively young director, Christopher Nolan, and his frequent cinematographer Wally Pfister (“Inception,” “The Dark Knight”).
It seems inevitable that 35mm film will join vinyl records and newsprint as a marker of a romanticized past, of quality over convenience. Nevertheless, the continual improvement of digital systems convinces holdouts to embrace a new world — even if they still fight for the richer images of celluloid which, as it turns out, will last longer in the archives. As resolution and overall on-screen image improve, though, it looks like there is no turning back.
Runtime: 99 Minutes
Directed by Chris Kenneally
Tues. 4/24, 8:30pm at SVA Theater. Thurs. 4/26, 7pm, Fri. 4/27, 2:30pm & Sat. 4/28, 4pm at AMC Loews Villager.