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'Side by Side,' the Film vs. Digital Documentary Produced by Keanu Reeves, is Now on Netflix

Film vs. Digital. Celluloid vs. Silicon. While the debate is beginning to die down due to economics and advancements in digital cinema cameras, a documentary on the subject called Side by Side takes a look at the issue with some of the premiere directors and cinematographers. We mentioned a few months ago that the doc, produced by Keanu Reeves, was available to buy, but now the film is available to watch right now on Netflix. Click through for some clips from the movie.

Here is the trailer:

I think what’s great about the film is that it’s not just a debate about one being better or worse than the other, it’s really a discussion about what we as filmmakers do and why we feel the medium is so important to tell stories. The conversation also ventures into more than film vs. digital as an acquisition medium, but also about the transition from film to digital in movie theaters. Though there are still plenty of filmmakers who want to shoot on film until the very end, many of them are now seeing the major benefit to projecting digitally. Here is David Lynch on that very subject:

Check out some more clips from the film below:

Steven Soderbergh

David Fincher

Reed Morano

Ellen Kuras

Michael Chapman

I think for most people digital acquisition and projection/distribution aren’t even a second thought. Digital is just cheaper for independent filmmakers, and unless you have a serious budget, you’re not going to be able to afford the thousands of dollars for film stock and processing.

The comments from Kuras and Chapman show that the discussion is evolving. Trying to save film or kill it in the name of digital is almost a side point when you look at the bigger picture. The tastes of consumers is changing, and the medium of the 21st century is the internet. I think the more important discussion is whether feature films will continue being as important culturally as they have been in the past, and how we will preserve these digital motion pictures for generations to come.

What do you think? Have you seen the film? What do you think of the future of film as an art form and as a culturally significant phenomenon?



We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

Description image 36 COMMENTS

  • Such a fantastic doc. It brings up every side, especially the issue of reliable archiving.

    • Very true. A lot of people view hard drives as a form of archiving.. I cant tell you how many tons of HD’s I get in as “Elements” … That is one area where film and tape have the advantage. Long Term Storage.

      • Well hard drives are a form of archiving, but you need at least three copies for it to be fairly secure. Having data on just one hard drive is the equivalent of deleting your files right away :)

        Too many people don’t back up their stuff at all and even professionals (camera-, not computer-professionals) think that one big RAIDed NAS is just perfect. Until their whole RAID setup gets fried, or someone accidentally erases all folders instead of just the empty one…

    • The storage issue that Ellen Kuras brought up was, for me as well, very important. I’m currently a student in Video & Audio Production at NEIT, so I’m new to film/video as a career, though I’m not a total stranger to it. At the same time, I’m not a 20-something as my fellow students, but rather I’ll be 50 in a couple of weeks. That being said, one of my jobs for several years was as a projectionist in three different theatres. I collected the cans of film, left by the distributor, spliced them all together, loaded them into the big canon-sized projectors, etc.; the the changeover in one of the theatres, and had platter systems in the other two. A usual film was five reels and they were rather heavy. Put that together with thousands upon thousands of others, and you’ve still got a storage issue at least room-wise. And even if room wasn’t a problem, there’s still fire, flooding, earthquake and other disasters that can destroy film. There is no perfect solution to the problem. But perhaps it would help if all digital films/stories were transferred to 35mm, in triplicate, and sent to three underground warehouses worldwide. Most likely this would help to preserve most, if not all movies into the far future.

      • I currently store all my master digital files to LTO-5, cloned, and one is stored on each coast.. When it comes to long term storage for a digital file, I think this is about as safe for archival as I can do. But yes, I still have vaults with rolls and rolls of 35mm dailies.

      • She is so right about this – I am actually wrapping my head around how to organize a backup strategy for my workplace. Up until now there have been master tapes (still in SD for mostly regional tv productions) but this is going to change in a few months when we will have 3 SxS cameras.

        I mean, I can buy some big 24 TB NAS (like everybody suggests, “just buy a good NAS”) but apart from the fact that I’d need at least two of these (because RAID is not a backup!) these NASes are going to be full at some point in the future, and then what?

        And also these spinning hdd discs don’t seem like a good archive media to me, I’d rather have tape. So then maybe go hard disc to hard disc to tape (two hdd copies and one LTO-5 tape copy). But how long will these tapes be useful? Can I still get a reader for them in 20 years?

        Although I am quite a computer-nerd (at least for a cameraman) I don’t sleep well these days because I just can’t think of a backup strategy that seems 1. fairly easy to use and 2. fairly secure.

      • I think the most secure form of storage right now is still paper and black and white film. So we’d either have to print our data on paper, or print every color channel seperately to a b/w film.

        By the way I recently discovered a program that can print digital data on paper and store up to like 1MB on one A4 page with a 300 dpi printer. You just need a scanner to read the data again.
        Funny idea, but with terabytes of film I guess we’d drown the whole earth in paper if we tried to print all our films on A4 sheets ;)

  • Love this documentary. Borderline required material for anyone in the field, in my humble opinion.

  • Anyone saw on the internet alternative way to see it ? I can’t watch :(

    • Can’t watch it because it’s not legally available to watch in your region, or can’t watch it because you don’t subscribe to Netflix or use iTunes? Because there are different answers depending on the reason the question is being asked.

      • well. it’s region block. Even if I would like to pay I won’t watch it. Friend of mine told about proxy trick, nothing more.

      • It’s not available in itunes at all (at least not in Germany) and Netflix is also “not available in your country” – so bummer!

        And then they wonder when things get pirated… (not saying I will, just saying…)

  • Keanu and friends really should think about part two or P.S. now, lol. Since then a lot of things happened, for example Fuji’s decision about… you know their film stocks and the situation, in which Kodak found itself in. I really want to believe film and digital can live side-by-side for another 30-50 years…. I just don’t see it.

  • its a must see. There are rumors of a follow up. Also, chris Nolan dresses like a bank manager.

  • Is Tarantino interviewed there? He has pretty strong opinions regarding digital film.

    • vinceGortho on 02.27.13 @ 8:18PM

      His opinions are well documented on youtube.
      he doesn’t mind digital at home but dislikes it in theatres.
      He says if a film breaks down it burns etc.. but if everyone saw a digital movie that malfunctioned start to rewind, they would feel cheated as if the could do this at home.

    • Tarantino is not in it.

    • He thinks digital projection is like “watching TV in a theater”. There’s plenty of old timers stuck in the past and film luddites presented in the doc already. Pfister and Nolan brought nothing valuable to the conversation, except maybe the archiving problem, if their opinions weren’t intentionally cut out (in that case it ain’t objective at all). In this day and age QT would’ve just make a clown of himself and fellow celluloid supporters – blabbing uncontrollably about superiority of aging and in many ways limited photochemical process from start to finish and how horrible digital projectors are. Please don’t, I’d be embarrassed for him. Even Soderbergh and Fincher aren’t THAT fanboyish about their new digital toys.

    • When I heard that Tarantino said he was not going to make films anymore if he had to shoot digital, my reaction was exactly what Steven Soderbergh says: Excuse me, what? How can you say that?

      You are a creative person, you are not supposed to say “but is has always been like this and I would never do it differently”!

      Of course you can love film, but can’t you look into the new technology and see what you can get out of it? Nobody says you have to shoot exactly like on film – just be creative, isn’t that what you do? ;)

  • In other news not being reported, Kodak has finally left the building. Literally. This week they moved into a much, much smaller building owned by a Fotokem facility. The old Kodak will call and loading docks only hold memories now.

  • The film was really great but…well not too many pro-film people were interviewed – it was more slanted to Cameron and Lucas – the pioneers in digital technology.

    Which is still great but made Chris Nolan and Wally seem like the only ones really who shared their views.

    I think the best part is that digital is just starting, and film is at its peak.

    But for me, well I just saw Amour – shot on Alexa. And it looked as far from fading into reality as can be. For me seeing something shot on film that is how I dream. It looks like that. I don’t question that there is a lens between me and the film.. The previous Haneake film White Ribbon looked so much better.

    Either digital works its kinks out or there is still a home for film.

    But still overall a really great film that looked into several important facets of our industry.

  • Good to hear I got Netflix and watching while at work.


  • This is a great documentary! No doubt about it!

  • It’s also on Amazon Prime for any Prime users.

  • I personally don’t think film will ever die. It can be just considered a style option. I wouldn’t mind seeing the two formats blend somehow, sense were all after the “film look”.

    • It wil become as unsignificant as it is in photography now. Some exotic large format cameras are still using film for very exotic projects, and once in a while you see an exotic artist-type photographer who still uses film, but it is just that: an exotic format for some special kind of artsy projects.
      No serious professional photographer would consider not using digital as his main format these days.

  • Saw this screened at MoMA followed by a discussion with Keanu and the director.

    Great documentary with amazing people. They interviewed over 100 different big names on the subject.

    As for Keanu being the interviewer, Keanu always plays Keanu, even in real life. “Whoa.”

  • Just watched it last night – fantastic doc!

    A very fair balance on the individual perspectves, but I can’t help but walk away thinking – “Yeah, film ran its course and digital is just beginning its own journey.” (As Lucas would say).

    Side note: Fincher is incredible. In my own opinion, from what I’ve seen/heard on the internet and directors commentary tracks, he’s the most consummate and level-headed director in the game. He doesn’t fall prey to sentiment (creatively or technically) and always keeps his eye on the goal (the story) opposed to, say, Lucas – whom is brilliant in his own right – but seems to have lost touch with why audiences go to movies. Cannot get enough of him! Dare I say a modern day Hitchcock, sans droll humor?

  • Ben Corwin on 03.1.13 @ 6:45PM

    If you enjoyed this, you should also check out, “These Amazing Shadows: The Movies That Make America” which is also on Netflix.

  • After watching this..I had a newfound respect for RED. What they did..what they stand for..and I am excited for what they can and will do in the future. I love what Jannard said, “we want to make a cxamera that can retire film..but make it feel good about what replaced it…” that’s is a huge nod to the format and a real appreciation of it. 6K acquisition and 4K projection is what Theaters deserve.

    Also, I found it funny how after all the effort about perfecting the lighting, mood, cameras, imagery, speding millions od dollars making everything look gorgeous…it all becomes moot and pointless duirng distribution..theatrical projections are as varied as TVs are which can easily destroy effort you made making the image perfect. And film is easily mesable from printing to transport to wear and tear during projection. Digital projection on the other hand is much much more consistent. The new problem now is..most people enjoy watching movies on phones, tablets and TVs..which is a much more degraded version of the final movie. So the amazing acquisition quality requirement is in a way..pointless.