(With thanks to Anne-Christine Loranger for sharing this with WINM!)
Side by Side - Interview with Chris Kenneally
James Cameron swears by the digital technology when Christopher Nolan refuses to shoot with it. From capture to projection, digital is the burning question of the time. Fifteen years after catapulting us into the computer world of The Matrix, Keanu Reeves is producing Side by Side, a major documentary project directed by Chris Kenneally that explores how the two technologies now coexist and what the future may bring us.
by Anne-Christine Loranger
Anne-Christine Loranger- Digital filming is a different film medium altogether, it obeys to a different of moviemaking rules. It makes us enter into another type of paradigm. What’s in it for us? Are we on our way to shoot art in the heart?
Chris Kenneally: No, I don’t think we’re going to shoot art in the heart. But it’s a technology that’s inexpensive. Anybody is able to go out and make a film. That part of it is wonderful, this democratization [of movie making]. You’re not stopped by the amount of money you have. A kid in any part of the world can make a film. You don’t have to be in Hollywood or new york to go to film school. I think that’s wonderful. That being said, it doesn’t mean that everybody is going to make a good movie. But even with the expensive technology, there is still a lot of bad movies that we’re made. So… People will have to weed them out. I think good material will get to the top and get seen.
ACL- As journalists we always have to justify why we are pitching a story. Why are you pitching this film now?
CK: I think it’s kind of a tipping point. In the past, even a few years ago, if you were shooting a movie with a digital camera, it might still be a great movie but everyone thought in the back of their head "Oh! They don’t have a real budget, it’s an indie movie, they’re trying to do something artsy", and now in terms of actual image, in terms of making something beautiful, people are starting to think digital can match film for image quality. Film has been the premiere motion picture technology for over a hundred years so its finally starting to turn. So we wanted to capture this moment in time.
- You deal a lot with the digital movie making process, but what about the projections?
We talk about that in the film as well, and that’s a huge story. Those are the two parts of the equation that are the last to fall: acquisition and the distribution. Those were always made inn film and digital creeped in for editing and color correct effect and you always had to go back to film in order to get it out there and create prints and ship them in cars. Now in the same way you can download a song or choose video on demand, they’re able to send movies all over digitally. Our movie here is a digital copy that they had us send on some main server and they just shoot it out of whatever theater they want to screen it.
- It costs a lot of money for digital projecting equipment. It this the end of artsy cinemas?
I don’t think so. I think there will be different types of ways to exhibit films. In the U.S., the distributor has to pay a certain amount to switch over to digital. For every digital movie,there is a little more to pay for the cost of the equipment. It may be different in other countries (n.b. the Taviani brothers, who shot Caesar must die in digital, had to transfer it to photochemical film because most Italian cinemas are not equipped with digital projectors). It would be a shame if art cinemas would go out of business but I don’t think this will happen.
- Another director here at the Berlinale, Marc Cousins, has also made a documentary about the story of film? Did you guys have an agreement on making documentaries about film?
No. Keanu and Marc Cousins are actually on some kind of panel discussion, talking about the art of interviews. I think his documentary is really a full history of films from the early days.
- We are entering a change of paradigm; the question used to be how we are going to put this subject on film. Now the technology is allowing us to go from How? to What? I repeat my question: Are we going to shoot art in the heart?
I don’t think so. I don’t think we’re going to shoot art in the heart. I think we have the ability now for more people to make films. I think that’s wonderful. Art was, in a way, something for the very elite, for people who had either a lot of free time of a lot of money. Or you were sponsored by someone who had a lot of money, if you had the talent. Now it puts it in the hands of the individual. You’re talking about archiving and are we able to hand on to things. I think it’s just a new technology and we’ll find a new way to keep track of things and to format things. Film if its taken care of the right way it lasts a long time. If it’s not handled the right way it gets damaged. If you care for it and you make sure that it is something that you want to hold on to, the technology will find an answer for it.
-It is not only changing how we tell stories, it is changing the stories we tell…
I think so. And again, I am sounding like I’m totally pro-digital. It gives us the opportunity to tell stories we would not normally tell. Even the amount of people we interviewed for our movie and the amount of time we had to set up and the quick locations… I think we could have made this movie on film. I think it would have been more difficult, much more expensive, so we would probably not have been able to reach out as many people or move as fast and make this happen. I think there are a lot of stories, both documentaries and fiction, that due to digital technology are able to be told.
- Michael Chapman in your documentary said ‘We’re not going to make any more references to "this film that I made". It will be "look at what I made digitally". Do you have a suggestion for the audience [as to what to say]?
Yeah. We’re running into that a lot when we are writing to someone or explaining what this movie is. You know ‘film’ was a catch-all term. I’m making a film, I’m shooting a film. Did you see my film? And its not necessarily ‘film’ anymore, in the same way that you guys are called ‘the press’ but you’re not necessarily going to write this and bring it to a printing press. So, it’s an adequated term in a way. I call it a movie or… I don’t say ‘it’s my digital movie’. I only say ‘It’s my movie.’ I try not to say ‘film’ if I remember it, unless something specifically is ‘film’.
- Your documentary feels rather objective but you said that you were prejudiced for the digital.
Yeah, I think I’m coming off that way for this interview. I mean, there’s lot of good things to be said about digital. It looks as if it’s the way it’s going. We did try to be objective in the movie. Film is an amazing technology. I mean, can you imagine something made today, same kind of format that lasts for over 100 years. We say this in the movie too: you can take a piece of film from 1909 and put it in a projector today 35mm film and it works. I mean, I can’t take the first record album I bought and put it in my i-phone. I have to go through a lot of steps and I think that’s amazing. Not only the technology and the mechanics of it but the look of it. We’ve all seen amazing films. There’s something about it and it is difficult for people to put it into words. That’s what we talked to people about. It’s hard to quantify. There’s something about it that has an amazing look.
- It’s seem to be that its all about how it looks. Film had to have some kind of relationship with what is there. Aren’t we getting hooked on things that look so good? At the detriment of content?
I’m not sure that’s true. You look at some of these old films, even some that we had at the beginning, at these beautiful faces. They’ve gazed up the lens and they set up the light and they get the make-up and that’s not really how someone looks. A lot of the times when people get digital HDTV and the politicians and newscasters now are like ‘Oh! My God, you can see so much details. It’s almost more real than what it was when it was lower resolution or when it was film, that kind of magical bonding. Sure, you can take things and manipulate them, manipulate it afterward but I think it’s been part of film making and image making since the earliest times. Even portrays that they made of people they made them look maybe better than they actually were.
- But then there was an agenda. If someone like the painter Holbein painted a portrait of someone and made it look better, there was a reason for that. He wanted this girl married off, or something. But when you’re enhancing a digital film, you’re still cheating in a way and I’m not sure why?
Movie and film encompass such a large thing. Movie that do have an agenda and want the actors and actresses to look a certain way for a certain reason. If you’re making a gritty, down-and-out film sometimes you want the people to look worse. I think that’s an agenda, it’s the agenda to the story. If you’re talking about advertising and digitally manipulating images, the agenda there is to sell make-up or dresses or shampoo.
-When you’re seeing a film, can you tell if it’s been shot in digital or in film?
I think I can sometimes. I can usually tell if it’s projecting on film or digitally. That I can tell. But the shooting, not always. It depends. If they’re using kind of a lower resolution digital camera I think I can tell. But the modern camera it’s tough to tell the difference. For me!
-Can you tell us something about your working with Keanu Reeves on this?
Sure. I was working with Keanu on another movie, on the post-production of Henry’s Crime. I was a supervisor. He was starring in the movie and producing it. And he was super curious about how the process worked and the work flow. We had a lot of conversations about film making and movie making and where we’re going. And he suggested "would it not be great if we made a documentary about this and interviewed the people who are at the top of the art form right now?" And I said ‘yes, that would be great. Let’s do it!’ and all along the process he’s just been great. I mean, he works so hard. Nobody I’ve seen before works so really hard, super interested, very passionate about it. And he just wanted to make a great movie. I was happy to work for him. It was an amazing experience.
- Is Keanu a film man or a digital man?
I don’t know. We both tried to stay objective but there was this one day when I remember him saying: ‘I get a feeling, Chris, that you’re more digital and I’m more film. I don’t know if that’s true but he definitely has a deep love and appreciation for film. He made so many films and he has been in front of the camera for so many productions that were shot on film. He worked with a lot of these amazing cinematographers and directors and he really appreciates the medium and the craft and the skill it takes. But he understand the advantage occasionally of what the digital is able to do as well.
- Was there more a sense of regret? Is the rendering objective about the general feeling?
It’s an objective rendition. We met young people who loved film and were against digital and old people who loved digital, the demographic really did not matter. It was just the same feeling the people had inside. But even those who have learned the craft of film and know exactly what they’re doing and how it going to look, they don’t have their heads in the sand, they see and understand the change of technology and why it must be a good thing for certain films. Almost all of them said: "It's another tool for the job". Sometimes digital will get the job done sometimes film will get the job done. It’s just another tool in their arsenal.
- You interviewed a lot of people. Were you surprised sometimes by the answers?
I think at first. We went at first to Camerimage in Poland, it’s a big film festival which centers on cinematographers. So all these great cinematographers from all over the world, guys who are in their 50's right now to guys who are making modern movies. At first I thought a certain way: "this guy is gonna think this" and "this guy is gonna say that", and it wasn’t the case. There’s this guy, Don Mc Alpine, who’s only shot in film and he shoots the X-Men and these big budget movies and he said: "I’d love to shoot a digital movie". He thought digital was a great thing and he’d love to try. I don’t know if he has, since we interviewed him one and a half year ago. Yes, at first it was surprising.
- What about David Lynch?
I was kind of surprised. I’d heard him talking about i-phone and watching movies on iphone when this thing went out. Talking about You Tube - You can’t watch a movie on iphone, but to hear him say: "I probably will not shoot a film again," that was interesting.
- Do you get this feeling that 10 years from now we’ll be saying: "We’re not shooting movies anymore"? And what about film screening as a communal experience, as a group?
I don’t know. It’s something I love to do. I hope it does not go away. People have been calling for the end of theaters for awhile, when TV came out, when VHS came out, home video, all these things. But I still love to go to the movies, my friends go to the movies, it seems they’re still making money with movies, but there are other ways to release them, see them, which I think are wonderful also. There’s video on demand, I can download things, there are opportunities now to see movies that would have been really difficult not long ago, to see some theater which shows some old independent movie and now we have the opportunity to do that, which is amazing.
- I'm putting here, side by side, a paper book (a beautiful hardcover collection of the best Philip K. Dick novels on bible paper) and next to it I put a Sony Reader containing 300 books (including some choice items by Georges Bataille). What do you choose?
I read paper books. I don’t know why, maybe it’s just because nobody bought me one of these for Christmas and I wasn’t going to buy it myself. Maybe I’m old-fashioned. It’s also easier on my eyes. I can definitely tell the advantage of having 300 books, but I can only read one book at a time. I’m not that smart.
-There is a huge interest here at the Berlinale about your film. Do you think it will be transferred to the theaters?
I hope so. I don’t know what the interest is. We’ve only had a press screening. I hope it translates, I hope people get to see it. We set up to make an interesting format of movie that’s interesting for people and I hope that we achieve. It would be great if people would see it and enjoy it. That’s my goal.
Interview made in Berlin in 2012, after the press projection of the documentary SIDE BY SIDE.