A long-awaited Aretha Franklin documentary is finally set to premiere.
Over 46 years after it was shot, the Aretha Franklin concert film ‘Amazing Grace’ will finally be released, therefore ending one of the longest and most tortured sagas in documentary film.
The film, mainly shot by director Sydney Pollack, covers the performance of the Queen of Soul at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles’ Watts neighbourhood in January 1972, where Aretha was backed by a gospel choir. It was filmed over two nights as Franklin recorded her Amazing Grace album.
The music from the two performances was released as a landmark double live album in 1972 but the resulting documentary, Amazing Grace, remained unedited for decades due to technical problems and protracted legal battles.
In 2011, the producer Alan Elliot (who acquired the rights to the film in 2007) assembled a production team who used digital technology to edit the footage. Even then, after completion, the film didn’t make it to reach cinemas because the late singer’s estate fought over the footage, to the point that the film was even pulled from Telluride and Toronto festivals back in 2015 after Franklin’s attorneys obtained an injunction against its release by arguing that the film was “the functional equivalent of replaying an entire Aretha Franklin concert” and couldn’t be screened without her consent.
One of the main technical reasons the footage took so long to edit was the film director’s refusal to use a clapper board during the filming; the tool was essential for the editing process in the pre-digital age and Pollack ended up with 20 hours of raw footage shot by five 16-millimeter cameras to sync, an almost impossible challenge.
Today, some 46 years after the concert took place, an agreement between the estate and producer Alan Elliott has been reached and Amazing Grace will premiere on November 12 at the DOC NYC film festival, possibly followed by an Oscar-qualifying cinema run in Los Angeles. Moreover, a wider cinematic release is expected in January – possibly to coincide with the birthday of the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr (January 15).
Sabrina Owens, the executor of the Franklin estate and Franklin’s niece, said: “In recent weeks, Alan presented the film to the family at the African American Museum here, and we absolutely love it. We can see Alan’s passion for the movie, and we are just as passionate about it. It’s in a very pure environment, very moving and inspirational, and it’s an opportunity for those individuals who had not experienced her in a gospel context to see how diverse her music is. We are so excited to be a part of this… Amazing Grace is the heart and soul of Aretha Franklin. This film is authentic and is my aunt at her core. She was a daughter of the church, she loved gospel music, and she always incorporated some form of sacred music in her concerts. Her fans need to see this film, which is so pure and so joyous. And the world needs to see it. Our country, it’s in such a state right now.”
Producer Elliot refers to the film as “a labor of love” and recently stated “Aretha’s fans will be enthralled by every moment of the film as her genius, her devotion to God and her spirit are present in every frame”.
Aretha Franklin passed away back in August, aged 76.