Keanu Reeves has his directorial debut arriving next year, but currently he is proudest of his documentary that put him in front of dozens of the most brilliant filmmakers working today. Movie Fanatic sat with the superstar and budding filmmaker for his documentary debut, Side by Side -- available now on VOD.
The film features Reeves interviewing some of the best and brightest of the directing world including Martin Scorsese, The Dark Knight Rises helmer Christopher Nolan and James Cameron.
To say the doc served as homework for the first-time helmer seems like a given, but it didn’t appear so at first. “I didn't know it at the time, but yeah,” Reeves said and laughed.
With his producing partner Chris Kenneally, Side by Side follows the progression of digital filmmaking replacing good old-fashioned film and how dozens of the most gifted filmmakers working today feel about the transition. “When we looked at it we were like, 'Where did we come from? Where is the movie industry at? Where are we today and what's the future going to look like, and what have we lost and what have we gained?'" Reeves said.
“I was more of the ‘What are we losing?’ Chris was more ‘What are we gaining?’ He would call me nostalgic and say, 'Get with it. Come on, wake up.' I'd say, 'But I love film!'"
Reeves' anchoring the film as narrator, host and interviewer shows another side of the actor that clearly illustrates his passion for the medium which has given him his career.
“Speaking with George Lucas, I didn't really know or feel the impact of what a maverick he's been in terms of the technology of how we make movies. From editing, sound, visual FX, projection and the camera -- he was the guy for all of that, him and his team at ILM.”
In Side by Side, Reeves also delved into the philosophy behind going digital and its emotional effect on legends. “When Martin Scorsese says, 'Young people aren't believing the real image anymore,' well, what does that mean?" Reeves said.
"James Cameron then answered, 'When was it ever real?' It raises questions for sure. What are the new ways that we see stories on all of the different portals that we have now? What is the modern movie-going experience? Does any of it matter?”
The Matrix star even interviewed the Wachowski siblings, directors of Reeves' biggest hit. They reported not being worried about the extinction of the movie-going experience from its purely social angle. “I was blown away by the Wachowskis talking about the communal, digital experience of sharing,” Reeves recalled.
Those filmmakers actually buck the tradition that one needs to be physically next to people to share in the film enjoyment experience. “‘It's actually more intimate not to be in a room full of people, but to be separated,'" Reeves reported Lana saying.
"'I was like, 'What was that again? But what about the flesh and the blood?' She said, 'It's more intimate now that I can go watch this in a separated communal environment and now I can think about it and share my thoughts with others online.'"
Given the Wachowskis' usual silence, and Lana’s recent gender reassignment, it is surprising to everyone, except Reeves, that he got the filmmakers to talk. “The response was, 'For you. Only for you,'" Reeves said.
“They had worked on a documentary over the past couple of years themselves. Plus the idea that they knew me and the subject matter helped in terms of wanting to speak on camera. We go way back.”
Reeves clearly had many masters to talk film with while making Side by Side that influenced his directorial debut of Man of Tai Chi, filmed in mainland China.
“Those filmmakers were astounding, but I also have a great producer, and we were able to put together a great team for my film. I found that making movies is making movies,” Reeves said.
He enjoyed working with talents from across China while he filmed, culling the most gifted from every corner of that country. “There was a real learning curve," Reeves said. "But once everyone knows what they're doing, everyone works hard and it shows on screen.”