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SIFF films shine light on backup singers, Macklemore’s rise and more

When it comes to the Rolling Stones classic Gimme Shelter, it’s the soaring backing vocals that stand out as much as Mick Jagger. Most people don’t have a clue who those women are, but a new film making its local debut aims to change that.

“Twenty Feet from Stardom,” is just one of the special offerings in the Seattle International Film Festival’s Face the Music Series. It tells the story of several background singers living in the shadows, virtually anonymous despite their role in propelling some of the most iconic music of our time.

Some are content with a life of obscurity. Others struggle with being relegated to a backing role, but all make for a compelling story.

“It’s such an amazing, powerful portrait of these singers,” says Beth Barrett, Director of Programming for SIFF.

Barrett picked out 14 films for the series. Among them are a documentary about the legendary Big Star and frontman Alex Chilton called “Nothing Can Hurt Me”, a retrospective of the first black punk band “A Band Called Death,” and a searing, music-infused drama about a marriage falling apart called “I Used to Be Darker,” featuring haunting musical performances by Kim Taylor and Ned Oldham.

“Because Seattle is such an amazing music town, film and music go together like chocolate and peanut butter,” Barrett says. “They work so well together.”

While the films come from all over the world, there’s a strong Northwest presence. And the stars aligned when Barrett was able to land the world premier of “The Otherside,” a film that chronicles the evolution of Seattle’s hip-hop scene. It just so happens to capture the meteoric rise of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis as they go from the underground to the top of the charts.

“Good job, Dan Torok (the film’s director), for being there right at the right time to capture the coalescence of all the work that’s been done over the last couple of decades in hip-hop,” she says.”

Another film with Northwest ties is “Her Aim Is True,” a profile of revered rock photographer Jini Dellaccio, who brought her fashion eye first to bands like The Sonics and The Wailers, then captured some of the most iconic images in rock of everyone from Neil Young to the Rolling Stones.

“She’s just an amazing, powerful woman,” Barrett says of the photographer who still calls the Northwest home.

The series also features a unique marriage of movies and live music. Seattle roots rockers The Maldives will perform an original score for the 1928 silent film “The Wind,” while the father and son from the legendary Alabama studio Muscle Shoals Sound trade stories and perform songs from artists like Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett that came from the storied studio.

“What we look for are great films about great musicians,” Barrett says, “because music is such a powerful way to tell stories and so is film. They work so well together.”

The Seattle International Film Festival runs through June 9.

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