It's old school vs. new school. It's tradition vs. technology. It's the past meeting the future, right here in the present, to debate the merits of old and new and discuss what will and won't survive.
And for folks who make movies, as well as many who love film in all its cinematic brilliance, it really is a question of which will be the last format standing.
In the documentary Side By Side: The Science, Art and Impact of Digital Cinema, Keanu Reeves steps out of the bright lights and goes behind the camera to become co-producer, narrator and host of a lively discussion of what developments in digital filmmaking mean to Hollywood's grand tradition of movie production.
The film, which played briefly at Cinematheque late last year during its theatrical release, airs Friday at 8:30 p.m. on Prairie Public TV. In it, some of showbiz's most powerful moviemakers, including George Lucas, James Cameron, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, Danny Boyle and Robert Rodriguez, engage in candid conversations with Reeves about the impact digital technology has had on their careers and on filmmaking in general.
Also included in the conversation are several A-list cinematographers, the participants in the moviemaking process who are perceived to have the most to lose as the industry shifts away from shooting on traditional film stock and toward digital cameras.
"We were really fortunate to speak to so many people who gave of their time and of their passion," Reeves said recently when he and co-producer Justin Szlasa met with TV critics during PBS's portion of the U.S. networks' summer press tour in Los Angeles. "And in a way, when you're interviewing (them) on the subject, it seemed that we would get 'Well, when I started... and then this happens.' So you're getting, like, their life story of their art, and that turns into their perspective on their craft, which was inspiring."
Not surprisingly, Side By Side is a film in which many of the interview subjects come down firmly on one side or the other of the film-vs.-digital debate. Of the Hollywood veterans in the mix, Lucas, Lynch and Cameron seem the most committed to exploring the possibilities of the new technology, while stalwarts such as David Fincher remain steadfast in their belief old-style photochemical film still produces a product that looks and feels superior to anything digital can currently achieve.
The film's director, Chris Kenneally, includes some basic but useful technical explanations of how traditional film cameras and newer-age digital cameras capture the images we later see onscreen. It's because of these segments, and also because of Reeves's somewhat surprising ease as an interviewer whose peer-group cred puts his subjects at ease, that Side By Side, while tightly packed with movie-tech detail, is a film that casual movie buffs can also enjoy.
"Word got out into the community that we were doing what we were doing," Reeves said of his decision to take an active role as the film's interviewer. "So it was cool when we would start to reach out to people and they'd be like, 'Oh, yeah, we know who you are.' And in terms of speaking to some of the peers I had met -- I hadn't worked with some of them, but definitely had met them socially, like James Cameron, Martin Scorsese -- definitely, I think me being involved certainly helped get a couple of phone calls answered.
"My feeling was I wanted to be next to the camera and be the interviewer, but I also wanted to be engaged in the conversation. So I tended to have the research that we had done and then to speak (to interview subjects) as a peer interested in this moment in time, and to have a conversation about (their) interests and (their) passion... So I was trying to do both -- I was kind of both objective and subjective."
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