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’20 Feet From Stardom’ Wins Best Documentary In An Extremely Strong Field

By Alyssa Rosenberg on March 2, 2014 at 9:48 pm

"’20 Feet From Stardom’ Wins Best Documentary In An Extremely Strong Field"

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'20 Feet From Stardom' Wins Best Documentary In An Extremely Strong Field

The-Act-Of-Killing

CREDIT: Drafthouse Films

20 Feet From Stardom, which is about backup singers who are, for the most part, women of color, is excellent. And 20 Feet From Stardom paints a devastating portrait of the ways in which music executives took advantage of the women who helped make much of the last century’s most iconic popular music. Darlene Love, who took the stage to accept on behalf of her fellow subjects tonight, essentially had her solo career stolen by a vindictive Phil Spector. It’s also a strong psychological look at the ways in which church choir training helped discourage some of these astonishing musicians from seeing themselves as potential lead singers, and at the psychological energy it takes to claim your place as a star.

The movie’s win ought to be an occasion for Hollywood to look at its own labor practices, most recently when it comes to visual effects artist. But as it so often is, the win for 20 Feet Of Stardom will end up standing in for a more sober self-assessment.

I really did love the movie. But at the same time, this was a very strong field of nominees, it’s a shame not to see a win for The Act Of Killing, which follows much less-savory characters and more distant history, in both time and geography. Joshua Oppenheimer’s stunning movie chronicles the “movie theater gangsters” who were hired by the Indonesian military government to carry out purges of Communists and accused Communists in 1965. These men are still living in Indonesia in positions of power, still extorting small businesspeople, and still celebrating their murders, which in one case included hundreds of garrotings on a roof. The country has only recently phased out a propaganda film shown to schoolchildren that depicted supposed Communist atrocities.

Because of the strong ties between the massacres and the memory of them and the movies, Oppenheimer recreated the killings with the subjects of his movie (the Indonesian government wouldn’t let him make a movie about survivors and their families). The result is deeply unnerving, even sickening. But it’s also one of the most powerful things I’ve seen on film in quite some time.

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