If new and established filmmakers find themselves moving outside the big studio orbit, they may discover that more than a few movie stars, craving artistic challenges, will follow suit. There was no shortage of A-list actors represented at Sundance – Naomi Watts, Scarlett Johansson, and Nicole Kidman, to name a few. Thankfully, the Z-listers from previous years were in much shorter supply. I am still recovering from seeing Paris Hilton a few years back emerging from a stretch limo in her pink parka.
The documentaries always stand out at Sundance, and one of the best kicked off opening night, Morgan Neville’s “Twenty Feet From Stardom,” about the notoriously unheralded backup singers who have provided so many memorable riffs and refrains on our favorite pop, rock, and R&B recordings from the 1960s and ’70s. Four of the featured women in the film, Judith Hill (the sole youngster, she sang “Heal the World” at Michael Jackson’s televised memorial service), Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, and Táta Vega, turned the post-screening Q-and-A session into an impromptu concert that rocked the rafters. (Almost all of them started out in church choirs.) A few days later I lunched with all of them, as well as another featured vocalist, Darlene Love, and their high spirits remained uncontained. They are all close friends. There’s talk of touring with the film together, of making a Christmas album. From Love, I learned the ultimate accolade these singers give each other after a particularly powerful rendition: “Girl, I’m gonna have to throw my shoe at you.”