Sundance opening-night doc 'Twenty Feet From Stardom' aims focus at back-up singers
Published: January 16, 2013 12:26PM
Updated: January 16, 2013 12:26PM

Legendary A&M Records exec Gil Friesen got the idea for the film that became "Twenty Feet From Stardom" while attending a Leonard Cohen concert with his wife.

When the show began, Friesen smoked a joint, then found himself musing about Cohen’s talented back-up singers — who they were and what their lives were like.

Later, he called it "the most expensive joint I’d ever smoked," as he bank-rolled filmmaker Morgan Neville’s documentary that is one of the opening-night films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Sadly, Frieson died last month on Dec. 13. "Gil was an amazing guy," Neville said in a phone interview. "He was a real gentleman in the music industry. He was the ampersand in A & M music."

But amid all of the mourning, there’s a lighter note. "He knew that the film had gotten into Sundance, and he was thrilled," said Neville, who was at Sundance in 2011 with "Troubadours," a documentary about the nascent singer-songwriter movement in Southern California in the early 1970s. "His wife, family and friends are coming."

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Twenty Feet From Stardom’ screenings

Jan. 17, 9:30 p.m. » Eccles Theatre, 1750 Kearns Blvd., Park City

Jan. 18, 9 a.m. » Temple Theatre, Located on Highway 224, Park City

Jan. 18, 9 p.m. » Sundance Resort Screening Room, North Fork, Provo Canyon, Sundance Resort

Jan. 19, 3:30 p.m. » Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. Broadway (300 South), Salt Lake City

Jan. 21, 11:45 a.m. » Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., Park City

Jan. 25, 8:30 p.m. » The MARC, 1200 Little Kate Road, Park City

— David Burger