Side by Side is a very interesting look into the (behind the scenes) controversy over digital filmmaking becoming such a popular medium and film becoming a financial risk. While film has been used to make movies for one-hundred-plus years now, digital has certainly presented changes to the future of filmmaking... but is that a bad thing?
Actor, Keanu Reeves interviews multiple directors who work with film and digital cameras to resolve the debate. Which is better for the artistic integrity of the movie, digital or film cameras? A legendary filmmaker like Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, Departed, Wolf of Wall Street) understands digital has its advantages, but ultimately believes film should not become obsolete, because there's history behind it with beautiful results. In certain examples Side by Side uses, the colorful grain in film simply makes it look better... but in other examples (particularly James Camerons' Avatar) digital looks better. It's very hard to say which medium looks better when you're comparing the looks of two beautiful movies like Apocalypse Now (film) and The Social Network (digital).
As this documentary progresses, we learn we're in the middle of an age where technology is steadily advancing. Film cameras are expensive and useless without... well, film. Buying and processing film is expensive and for any novice filmmaker out there, practicing with it is difficult (in editing and cost). You can rightly say practice makes perfect, because there are countless masterclass filmmakers out there who started and ended their careers with film, but does that make it right to say an aspiring filmmaker of this generation must start with film to be considered great someday too? That wouldn't be fair.
In the end, Side by Side is entirely neutral and presents valid arguments for both sides of the fence. Film looks wonderful and has a magnificent history behind, but it's limited and expensive. Especially for up and coming filmmakers. Whereas digital is being advanced with each passing year and sold at cheaper costs. It takes an entire day to view what you've filmed the day before with film, but a digital recording can be seen during and immediately following the initial recording. I saw this with a group of friends and we collectively came to the same conclusion. At the end of the day, story is what's most important. You can film it with anything as long as there's talent behind and in front of the camera. If you're talented, the merits will reveal themselves - ignoring what camera you're using.
Being a photographer and graphic designer, I love the look of film, but it's difficult to work with. My dSLR has performed nicely over the years and if I had the choice to work with film, I would use it. But at the end of the day, digital will always work best, because it's simple. It may not look better, but it's definitely easier to use and cheaper to complete your projects with.
Should film be obsolete? No. Should digital be required for every Hollywood production? Certainly not. Side by Side ultimately says, give whatever the director wants. You can't give Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, Inherent Vice) a digital camera and expect him to do what he does with film. Seeing what David Fincher (Zodiac, Social Network, Gone Girl) has been doing with digital over the past ten years, I say leave both mediums up as an option. In the end, let the artist use their preferred tool. Some directors can use both mediums. Others can only use film or digital (not both). Is obsoleting one of the mediums a risk we really want to make considering many filmmakers from Quentin Tarantino to Christopher Nolan are demanding film to remain an option for every Hollywood production? The last thing Hollywood needs is a director strike.
Side by Side just says, let's use both film and digital cameras in Hollywood and call it a day. For anyone interested in the future of cinematography, this is the documentary for you.