Films Without Film

Moviemakers have used the same basic film emulsion method since the 1800s. Side by Side, a documentary directed by Christopher Kenneally and narrated by Keanu Reeves, considers the revolutionary consequences of the shift toward digital cinematography that began in the 1980s.

Dismissed at first as a fad that couldn’t approach the image quality of film, digital recording is rapidly becoming the industry standard. Some of the directors and cinematographers interviewed by Reeves regret the end of the celluloid era. But most are excited by the new technology’s potential, not just for creating big-budget spectaculars such as Avatar but for enabling interesting yet inexpensive experiments.

“It takes the art form out of a rarefied environment and allows more people to make art,” observes Matrix co-director Lana Wachowski. Lars von Trier, co-founder of the avant-garde Dogma 95 filmmaking movement, concurs, arguing that “there’s a lot of talent that could be freed by less respect” for the rituals of the celluloid cult. —Jacob Sullum

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