Acquisition Friday: 'Amazing Grace' Aretha Franklin doc and Werner Herzog's Mikhail Gorbachev film picked up for distribution
Amazing Grace goes to Neon; The Orchard buys Meeting Gorbachev
Two prominent documentaries secured theatrical release in deals announced Friday.
Neon has acquired North American rights to Amazing Grace, built around the live recording of Aretha Franklin's gospel album of that name in 1972, with plans for an early 2019 release. The film premiered last month at DOC NYC after a delay of 46 years caused by technical and legal issues.
Werner Herzog's Meeting Gorbachev, which premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in September, has been picked up by The Orchard for theatrical release in 2019. The film co-directed by André Singer features extensive conversations between Herzog and Mikhail Gorbachev, the 87-year-old former Kremlin chief who presided over the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Amazing Grace is the heart and soul of Aretha Franklin. This film is authentic and is my aunt to her core.
Amazing Grace is a late qualifier for Oscar consideration this year, making the deadline by virtue of a one-week run in theaters in New York and LA. Acclaimed director Sydney Pollock shot the original concert material, but audio synching problems held up its release indefinitely. After Pollock's death in 2008, producer Alan Elliott acquired the project. Then Franklin sued to keep the completed film from being released. Her death last August cleared the path for the documentary to finally reach audiences, with the blessing of Aretha Franklin's estate.
“Amazing Grace is the heart and soul of Aretha Franklin," declared Sabrina Owens, the singer's niece who represents the estate. "This film is authentic and is my aunt to her core. Our family couldn't be more excited for audiences to experience the genius of her work and spirit through this film."
A&E IndieFilms, through its History Films division, retains TV rights to Meeting Gorbachev.
"Werner and André have brought us a rare and historic interview with Mikhail Gorbachev which is particularly relevant given the current state of world affairs," Molly Thompson of History Films told Variety.
The Toronto International Film Festival, where Meeting Gorbachev played after its Telluride debut, hailed the film as "riveting."
"[Herzog] clearly admires Gorbachev for being the kind of world leader that's in short supply today, known for his grace, wisdom, and commitment to peace," TIFF noted in its program. "Gorbachev speaks like a man with nothing to lose. He is respected more outside Russia than inside, where he's blamed for the Soviet Union's breakup in 1991. He laments that 'we didn't finish the job of democracy in Russia'"
Meeting Gorbachev did not qualify for Oscar consideration this year, but the deal announced Friday means it will factor into next year's Oscar race.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.