Keanu Reeves produces, narrates and acts as on-camera interview in Chris Kenneally's fascinating new documentary about Hollywood's transition into the digital age. Years on the acting A-list has primed the one-time Neo well for Side by Side; he's able to call on the cream of the movie industry's directors, cinematographers, producers and camera producers to document the move from celluloid to digital.
Side by Side assembles a cast of talking heads - including digital evangelists George Lucas, James Cameron and David Fincher, and those reluctant to convert such as Christopher Nolan and his director of photography Wally Pfister - to deconstruct the entire technical process, workflow and history of the business.
The documentary examines everything from image capture, editing, delivery, projection and archiving as Kenneally and Reeve strike a balance between showing reverence to cinema's past and celebrating its binary future.
For some, the old ways are still the best, and it's clear from interviews with the likes of Nolan and Martin Scorsese that there's still a romanticism attached to physically cutting film on flatbeds and getting your fingers bloody. Dailies, the process of printing the previous day's footage and viewing though a projector, has now changed completely as directors can watch their footage instantly on playback monitors.
This is heaven for control freaks like Fincher, who'll happily plough dozens of takes, and someone like Robert Rodriguez who wants to work fast and streamline the process of inserting digital effects. It was Lucas who spearheaded the switch to digital with his Star Wars prequels, causing a ruckus in Hollywood in the process.
Cinematographers, whose knowledge of lighting and celluloid is so integral to the photochemical process, felt that the technology was destroying their art. Similarly, camera companies and producers of negative stock stood to lose a fortune. For pioneers like Cameron and Lucas, though, this is the system standing in the way of progress. Others like The Dark Knight Rises duo Nolan and Pfister are still very much bound to the magic of celluloid.
Perhaps the biggest personal triumph in the evolution comes from Anthony Dod Mantle, the DP who shot digitally for the Dogme 95 movement's debut outing The Celebration. Mantle believed he would never win an Oscar because of the format he chose to shoot on, but all that changed when Slumdog Millionaire swept the Academy Awards in 2009. Ultimately, filmmakers are storytellers, and the conclusion that Side by Side makes is that content wins over form.
Reeves makes for a relaxed interviewer, cajoling fun anecdotes from Joel Schumacher (speaking about a star obsessed with their hair), Rodriguez (saying he wants to "follow Obi-Wan" George Lucas), Fincher (Robert Downey Jr leaving jars of urine around the set in protest at Zodiac's digital camera). David Lynch, reinvigorated by digital cameras, seems to be having as much fun pronouncing "Keanu" as he does talking about the new process.
Side by Side occasionally ventures off into moviemaking specifics, covering camera technology, 3D and digital projection. The controversial 48fps HFR format isn't touched upon, neither is the increasingly popular IMAX filming and projection format. Side by Side delves into areas too niche to entice the casual cinemagoer, but nevertheless this really is essential viewing for movie fans.