Keanu Reeves on His Documentary Side By Side Featuring Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, David Fincher and More
by Roth Cornet
The rise of the digital era.
Side By Side: The Science, Art, and Impact of Digital Cinematography, a documentary produced by Keanu Reeves, takes an in-depth look at the digital revolution in filmmaking. The film explores what has been gained, what is lost, and what the future might bring. The film features interviews from prominent cinematographers, editors and directors, including, Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh, Lana and Andy Waschowski and more.
Reeves and his co-producer, Justin Szlasa, were on hand at today's TCA (Television Critics Association) press tour to discuss the documentary (which is now set to air on PBS) and their perspective on the film versus digital debate.
Side By Side had a limited theatrical release last year and was subsequently tightened-up to the 52-minute run-time that PBS required for broadcast. "We were happy to have the opportunity to get our film out to a wide audience," Szlasa said. "There's also a 90-minute version that's similar to the theatrical cut. We're going to feed the 90-minute out to PBS affiliate stations and we hope that they may run with that. We'll also make it available [elsewhere]."
"It's a bounty of riches," Reeves joked.
The actor was inspired to produce Side By Side when he was in the post-production process on the film Henry's Crimes (sic). He was in the room, and watched, as the film was color corrected both photophemically and digitally at the same time, literally side by side. That same day, the cinematographer on Henry's Crimes sat Reeves down to share some "amazing" images from the commercial he had just shot digitally.
"I thought, this is the death of film," said Reeves.
The actor then set on a course to investigate whether or not his supposition was true. "Are you done with film?" Reeves asks David Lynch in the opening moments of the Side By Side trailer. To which Lynch responds, "Don't hold me to this Keanu, but I think so."
The documentary examines how and why iconic filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese choose to use the digital format versus film, as Scorsese did with 2011's Hugo. In fact, Reeves himself ultimately elected to shoot his directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi, digitally.
However, the actor feels slightly less gloom and doomy about the chances for celluloid's survival than he did during production on the documentary. "I was skeptical that it would survive a year ago, but there seems to be an artistic push back that will help it survive in a niche way," Reeves said. Though the actor/producer does seem to have a real sense of reverence and nostalgia for film as a medium, Reeves also notes that aesthetic advances have been made in the digital format, even in the last year.
"This documentary speaks about how there are unique aspects and qualities of the photochemical experience," Reeves explains. Saying, "There are people who are the protectors of that flame."
Reeves did acknowledge that the "digital revolution" has, as many have said, "democratized" the art-form. "The mobility and cost changed what you can do story-wise. If I've got a phone or camera I can tell a story," the actor says. "If I have the Internet I can share that story. That's had an impact."
"Traveling with the film served as a reminder of the love of movies and storytelling," Reeves said, stressing how crucial and vital the film vs. digital is to his peers. The idea that the shift to digital is either an evolution or revolution is indicative of what is happening in movie-making at this moment in time. "For us [filmmakers], this is our lives, and the personal passion comes across in the documentary."