Keanu Reeves examines the nexus of art and technology in ''Side by Side,'' the Christopher Kenneally documentary he produced about the impact of digital filmmaking. The actor, 47, spoke to EW about the doc (now in limited release and on VOD), his directorial debut, and how it felt to be the subject of an Internet phenomenon.

Side by Side

  • Movie

What drew you to the subject of Hollywood’s transition to digital technology?
It started as a personal question for me. In the fall of 2010, I was just looking around and thinking, ”With digital cameras and digital projection, this might be the end of film. What’s happening in this sea change of technology? What are we gaining and what are we losing?”

You talk to a lot of filmmakers in Side by Side. Some, like Christopher Nolan, are staunchly holding on to traditional photochemical film, while others, like George Lucas, are strongly pro-digital. Did you have your own bias going in?
I was probably on the romantic, ”What are we losing?” side. But I learned a lot making the film. Digital technology has gotten a lot better. It still doesn’t take away my nostalgia and love of film. But whether you’re ready for it or not, here it comes. I was surprised when I asked David Lynch, ”Are you done with film?” and he said, ”Don’t hold me to it, Keanu, but I think I am.” I’d have thought he’d hold on to the photochemical image. But for his process, he isn’t interested in it anymore.

The movie explores the digital-effects revolution, too. Martin Scorsese says he worries people are losing the ability to believe what they see on the screen. You were in The Matrix, which was a milestone in the evolution of digital effects —
And was about exactly that: believing the image! I asked James Cameron about that question. I said, ”Well, it’s not real anymore.” And he said, ”When was it ever real?”

You recently finished directing your martial-arts movie, Man of Tai Chi, in China. How was it being a first-time director?
Doing Side by Side dovetailed nicely with directing. I had a little bit of a map of the forest I was walking into. So far I haven’t fired myself or been kicked off the set, which is nice. But there’s still time.

What else have you been up to lately? We haven’t seen you on screen in a couple of years.
I won’t argue with you — it’s the lot of an actor. But last year, I was working on a film called 47 Ronin [a big-budget fantasy-adventure film slated for December 2013], and before that I did an independent film called Generation Um…, which will also hopefully come out next year. And we’re also trying to get a Bill & Ted‘s sequel off the ground.

That’s good to hear. After the ”Sad Keanu” Internet meme took off, a lot of people probably imagined you’ve just been sitting on benches, looking sad.
[Laughs] Yeah. That day I was actually coming out of the edit of another movie I did, Henry’s Crime.

So what did it feel like to see an image of yourself eating a sandwich become a global viral phenomenon?
[Pauses] Very modern.

Side by Side
  • Movie
  • 109 minutes