Forty six years after it was shot, a documentary on American singing legend Aretha Franklin is finally set to be released, reported Variety. Amazing Grace, stalled for decades over technical troubles and then a legal battle, will be premiered at the DOC NYC Festival on November 12 and is eyeing a wider theatrical release in 2019. It is also looking to qualify for the 2019 Academy Awards, for which it will have week-long runs in November and December in select theatres in New York City and Los Angeles.
The documentary was shot by Oscar-nominated director Sydney Pollack in 1972, who filmed Franklin at a Los Angeles Church over two days as she recorded her best-selling gospel album Amazing Grace. Owing to a technical error, Pollack was unable to sync the sound to the footage, leading him to abandon the project. Alan Elliott bought the rights to the film from Warner Bros in 2007 and managed to complete it by 2011.
However, Franklin was opposed to the film’s public release and in 2015, when it was set to be premiered at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals, her lawyers secured an injunction against it. In a complaint, Franklin contended that Pollack had filmed her in 1972 “with the express understanding that it [the footage] would not be used commercially” without her agreement and consent, according to a Variety report from that year. “Allowing the film to be shown violates Ms Franklin’s contractual rights, her intellectual property rights, her rights to use and control her name and likeness, and represents an invasion of her privacy,” the complaint stated.
Eventually, Elliott and Franklin’s team reached an agreement and decided to make Franklin a partner in the movie. As distribution deals were underway, Franklin grew severely ill. After she died of pancreatic cancer on August 16 this year, Elliott screened the film for her family at the Charles Wright African American Museum in September. Elliot and Franklin’s estate then arrived at an agreement over the film’s release.
Franklin’s niece and executor of her estate, Sabrina Owens, told Variety that the family “absolutely love” the film. “We can see Alan’s passion for the movie, and we are just as passionate about it,” she said, adding that it’s “a feel-good movie that could be very uplifting in a time of turmoil in our country”.
Elliott told the publication that the film would have worked well at any time, but “her singularity and her absence are really felt right now, so I think there is that energy toward rediscovering things that she did”.