Anna Dimond is an AwardsLine contributor.
From sites of massacres in Indonesia to massive half-pipes in Vermont, from Holland’s halls of art to the world of backup singing, the year’s shortlisted documentary features are stories that would otherwise go untold, some shedding new light on headline-grabbing turf. Each reveals a facet of how we live now: The tragedies and the triumphs, and the power of the genre to share deeper narratives that define identity and culture.
When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the shortlisted films December 3, 15 feature-length documentaries advanced further in the race for a 2014 Oscar nomination. The fact that 147 docs qualified to compete at the beginning of the season demonstrates the power and scope of the genre. Among the films that made the shortlist, Twenty Feet From Stardom is Morgan Neville’s introduction to the world of backup singing through the lives of several women who have had long careers singing behind big names. The brainchild of music executive Gil Friesen, who co-produced the movie, Neville quickly learned that backup singers’ spots on the stage aren’t about lack of talent. “It becomes a film about how we measure success in our country and our society,” he says. “When I first started hearing these hard-luck stories of missed opportunities, these people weren’t broken or bitter about it,” Neville explains. “They had come to see it in a peaceful way. (It) was a way to live the life that you actually have (versus the one that you want). Most of us live in between.”