20 Feet From Stardom
Nate von Zumwalt, Editorial Manager
The documentary format has long been a spotlight for the unheralded and the unsung (pun possibly intended) and that theme holds true in Morgan Neville’s soulful film 20 Feet From Stardom. Reflecting on an era when backup singers played a pivotal role in composing the body of a record, 20 Feet transports viewers to the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s when virtual unknowns such as Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, and Judith Hill played second fiddle on iconic songs and albums credited to their more famous contemporaries. Neville stuffs the film full of interviews with luminaries such as Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger and Sting, among many others, who provide one-of-a-kind commentary and intimate tales culled from their years in the industry.
Most fascinating is the reality rooted in the film’s pithy title. By all accounts, including their literal proximity to their famous counterparts, the subjects of the film were each a stone’s throw and a lucky break away from stardom. Neville admits that even his own cloudy perceptions of backup singers were revised after making the film.
“What I imagined was that backup singers may not have a lot of character to their voices and that’s why they’re backup singers—that’s not true,” he said. “The fact is [that] backup singers can blow away lead singers any day of the week, every day of the week.” 20 Feet From Stardom cements that notion, and finally gives some of the most underappreciated voices of the 20th century a chance to shine.
- 20 Feet From Stardom played in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and is nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 86th Academy Awards.
- Morgan Neville previously screened his film Troubadours at the 2011 Festival.
- Gil Friesen, the film’s producer, is also a music industry executive and originally brought the idea for the film to Neville’s attention.