REELSTORIES Film Festival is set to hit a high note Jan. 30 with the featured documentary “20 Feet From Stardom,” a 2014 Best Documentary Oscar contender that chronicles the lives of some of music’s most iconic backup singers.
REELSTORIES’ selected feature films combine the best of culture, art and cinematography in riveting documentaries that capture the heart and essence of film-making.
Besides “20 Feet From Stardom,” which will be shown in Smothers Theatre “Blackfish” (Elkins) and “The Crash Reel” (The Waves Cafe) will also be shown.
“20 Feet From Stardom” provides a provocative, in-depth look at the remarkable lives and careers of the women who sang backup for legends like Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Bette Midler and Stevie Wonder. The film makes it clear that their contribution to the music of the 1950s and 1960s had a powerful impact.
Featured backup singers Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega and Claudia Lennear infuse classic rock and pop songs with an added depth of heart and soul that make the music mesmerizing. From the hauntingly beautiful vocal solos of “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones to the smooth, soulful harmonies in Stevie Wonder’s songs, these women have the voices to complement — and rival — their famous counterparts.
Although these women had the voice, they never got the recognition for their contributions to the music world. We will always remember the names of icons like Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen, we may never recognize those of Darlene Love or Lisa Fischer. That is exactly what “20 Feet From Stardom” aims to uncover. Who are these women we hear in the background of our favorite songs, and what are their stories?
Passion, determination, strength and that insatiable thrill of being under the spotlight belting out their heart and soul is what drives these overlooked music queens. The life of a backup singer isn’t easy, but these women have managed to make it through heartbreak and struggle. Their mesmerizing voices contribute to some of music’s most iconic songs.
Despite their success as backup singers, these women tell of difficult times. They tell of the big break — singing backup on the big stage — and the hopes and dreams that it inspired. And they tell of reality — the crushed expectations, the trials and failures of trying to break out on their own and the quest to form their own identities as both women and performers.
The stories, emotions and voices of these women and their famous counterparts are flawlessly woven together in a piece of cinematographic excellence produced by the late Gil Friesen, president of A&M records. Friesen first came up with the idea for the documentary at a Leonard Cohen concert where he became fascinated by the vocals of the backup singers, according to an article by the Rolling Stone. Soon the project turned into a full-blown feature film, capturing the untold stories of these backup singers. Friesen was able to see the final cut of the film before his death from leukemia in December 2012. Following Friesen’s death, Morgan Nelville took over production of “20 Feet From Stardom,” and never lost touch with its creator’s original vision, according to the same article by the Rolling Stone.
Students and guests attending REELSTORIES will be dazzled not only by the amazing vision of this documentary, but also by the many stars who will appear for the screening of it. According to a press release by REELSTORIES, some of the artists attending are Claudia Lennear, Charlotte Crossley (both featured artists in the documentary), Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, and Ike and Tina Turner for a special Q&A.
The event is free and open to the public. Seating is limited so arrive at 5:30 p.m. to check-in to receive tickets. The feature documentaries will begin showing at 7 p.m. in various locations throughout campus.
Follow Danielle Accovelli on Twitter: @DanielleAccovel