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Meet the 2013 Sundance Filmmakers #5: Morgan Neville Gives a Voice to Backup Singers in ‘Twenty Feet From Stardom’

Meet the 2013 Sundance Filmmakers #5: Morgan Neville Gives a Voice to Backup Singers in 'Twenty Feet From Stardom'

Documentarian Morgan Neville, whose films “Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story,” “Muddy Waters Can’t Be Satisfied,” and “Johnny Cash’s America” have all been nominated for Grammys, comes to Sundance 2013 with “Twenty Feet From Stardom,” playing in the U.S. Documentary section. He also produced “Pearl Jam Twenty,” “Beauty is Embarrassing” and “Crossfire Hurricane.” Neville’s first film, after working as a journalist, was “Shotgun Freeway,” which took him three years to complete. “That was really my film school,” he said.

What It’s About: “‘Twenty Feet from Stardom’ tells the story of a string of amazing backup singers, largely African-American women, who brought the sound of the church into popular music.”

What It’s REALLY About: “Backup singing is really a metaphor for how we treat those around us. Backup singers concentrate on helping others and losing their individual identity in what they all call ‘the blend.’ For singers, this can be bliss or it can be purgatory. To me it expands to a cultural question: To what extent are we here to help others and to what extent do we look out for ourselves?

“This is really the kind of film that doesn’t get made very often. It’s about people you haven’t heard of before, but the rights are byzantine and the costs very high. We called in a lot of favors to get this done.”

What Cameras I Used: “We used several cameras depending on the scene: Red Epic, Canon C300, Canon 5D and a Sony EX3 with a Letus prime lens adaptor.”

Inspirations: “Touch The Sound,” “Listen Up,” “In The Shadow Of The Stars,” “The Last Waltz,” “How To Survive a Plague.”

In the Works: “I have a couple of documentary projects I’ve been working on, one with Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Project, that puts to the test the idea that music is an international language. I’ve also been working on a film about the televised debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley that explores the role TV plays in our democracy.”

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2013 festival.

Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch of the festival on January 17 for the latest profiles.

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