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Sundance '13: Day One

Marjorie Baumgarten kicks off the festival with a song in her heart

By Marjorie Baumgarten, 12:19PM, Fri. Jan. 18, 2013

'Twenty Feet From Stardom'
'Twenty Feet From Stardom'

I’ve been coming to the Sundance Film Festival, the country’s biggest independent film festival, nearly every year since the mid-Nineties.

While in many respects, those years of experience makes things easier: I know the lay of the land in the small ski-resort community of Park City, Utah, where the festival takes place. But nothing ever makes getting to this spot from 7,000 feet up in the Wasatch Range easy. My home in Austin, Texas, might as well be a million miles away.

But I’m feeling lucky this year. My flight on Delta, the one airline that offers direct flights between Austin and Salt Lake City, left and arrived on time Thursday afternoon – which already made me more fortunate than most of the SXSW staff who booked reservations on Delta’s morning flight, which was inexplicably canceled. The soonest Delta could rebook them was for a flight on Saturday. Once at the Salt Lake City airport, the next hurdle is the shuttle van to travel the 35 miles from SLC to Park City. All told, that little trip only took about two hours from the time I checked in at the airport counter to the time I arrived at my condo door. Of course, this was a half-hour after the registration desk shut down for the night, so getting my credentials in order to fulfill my plan of seeing an evening film was not in the cards. But at least that allowed me the hour or so I needed to get the wifi in the condo where I'm staying to work correctly.

I’m glad I plunged forward anyway, sans my press badge. The volunteer working at the 10pm press screening I attended understood my story and let me in to the screening after securing my promise to attend lots more screenings at that venue. The movie, Twenty Feet From Stardom was a great way to start the fest.

Morgan Neville's competition documentary puts the spotlight on the people in the background: the backup singers who make all those pop songs we love come to life. With special focus on the singers Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill, and the Waters family, the film looks at what Bruce Springsteen terms “the long walk to the front.” More than a physical leap, the move to solo artist is a conceptual leap that some singers are just not interested in taking, while others have been thwarted or unlucky in their attempts. The anonymity they were accorded by the Phil Spector wall of sound was rescued by the British rock invasion, whose bands needed these backup singers in order to authenticate their R&B sound. As Sundance kicks off with its heady mix of celebrity and hoi polloi, Twenty Feet From Stardom takes on extra resonance.

A midnight stop for a few groceries on the way home and a good night’s sleep, and I’m now good to kick this festival into full gear.

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