DATE: Friday, 8.17
TO: Hawk Koch, president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences
FROM: Jeffrey Wells, Hollywood Elsewhere
RE: Side by Side screening at the Academy


I’m writing to suggest something bold and out of the ordinary — i.e., for the Academy to hold a special screening of Keanu Reeves and Chris Kenneally‘s Side by Side, a Tribeca Films release that opens today at the Laemmle Noho and on VOD on 8.22. I’m asking you to approve this not as an “interested party” (I’m just a columnist) but because the film very simply but intelligently explains how and why the industry has changed over from film to digital, and it would benefit everybody to sink into this history and understand it as fully as possible.

The disappearance of celluloid and the dominance of digital is the most earth-shaking and to some extent traumatic change that Hollywood has undergone since the advent of sound, and it seems to me that the Academy membership, which by and large will almost certainly pay no attention to Side by Side because it has barely been promoted, would genuinely benefit by seeing it and taking stock of the knowledge it offers.

The Academy almost never shows indie-styled films, I realize. Every time I go to a special Academy screening it’s always for classics or for Oscar-season contenders, but mostly for looking-back contemplations. Side by Side is a different story because it’s not just about the relatively recent past (i.e., the last 14 or 15 years) but about right now and the future. It’s a major nuts-and-bolts lesson in how the industry is working right now.

Here’s how I explained things in a 7.28 review.

“As recently as 12 or 14 years ago digital was seen a joke that only the DOGMA guys and various no-account indie directors were working with. So we’ve all been witness to a major technological revolution, and it really needs to be fully pondered and studied from this and that angle. It’s too seismic and seminal to ignore.

Side by Side is a highly intelligent sizing-up of the situation. It tells you what you know or have heard, but it’s a very soothing and stimulating thing to consider what’s happened over the last 14 or so years in one tight 99-minute presentation. It’s wonky, yes, but it’s cut and presented in such a way that even the most ADD-afflicted dilletante will be able to get into it, and yet it’s well-ordered and sophisticated enough to intrigue those who know all about this transition.

“I think it’s easily one the best made and most absorbing docs of the year.

“So I’m of the opinion that Side by Side is not only smart and fascinating, but very necessary to see here and now because every so often we all have to take stock of where we are and where we’ve been, and this is one of those occasions. In short it’s important — it goes over everything and reminds us where things were not so long ago, and where we are today and are likely to be in 10 or 20 or 50 years.

“Plus it assembles all of the leading and necessary hotshots in a single room, so to speak — interviewer Keanu Reeves plus Chris Nolan (a non-fan of digital), David Fincher, George Lucas, Steven Soderbergh, James Cameron, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Richard Linklater, Danny Boyle and dps Vilmos Zsigmond, Wally Pfister (who hates digital), Reed Morano, Michael Chapman and digital pioneer Anthony Dod Mantle, who shot The Celebration, the first significant digital feature, as well as the digitally-captured, oscar-winning Slumdog Milllionaire.”

I realize that the Academy is very heavily booked in advance and it’s not simple to stage one of these screenings, but I truly think it’s important for everyone to see this, and I know that Tribeca Film hasn’t stepped up to the plate to suggest this but I feel compelled to.


Jeffrey Wells
Hollywood Elsewhere