'Amazing Grace,' documentary on Aretha Franklin 46 years in the making, to finally premiere at DOC NYC
Film documents recording of Franklin's 1972 gospel album, but she fought to keep it from being seen
A documentary about Aretha Franklin that was shot over 45 years ago but never released will finally make it to the screen.
Amazing Grace, which captured the live recording of Franklin's legendary 1972 gospel album of that name, will premiere at DOC NYC next Monday, November 12, the festival announced today.
“Amazing Grace has been a lost treasure of documentary filmmaking for over four decades," Thom Powers, DOC NYC artistic director, noted in a statement. "I can’t think of a bigger honor for a festival than to premiere this film.”
The documentary, originally shot by Sydney Pollack but not completed until after the director's death in 2008, was to have played three years ago at the Toronto International Film Festival. But the singer successfully filed suit to block that, arguing producers who finished the film needed her permission to release it.
Franklin's death in August from pancreatic cancer paved the way for it to see the light of day. The movie's release comes with the blessing of her estate.
"Amazing Grace is the heart and soul of Aretha Franklin,” said Franklin's niece, Sabrina Owens, executor of the Aretha Franklin Estate. “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.”
The film has taken a complicated path to audiences, to say the least.
Pollack's cameras rolled as Franklin gave two concerts in LA that became the basis for her album 'Amazing Grace.' But audio synching problems bedeviled the shoot, and Pollack ended up shelving the film.
"The footage wound up in a vault," TIFF explained back in 2015.
Producer Alan Elliott obtained the footage from Warner Bros. in a quitclaim deed and proceeded to finish the film. But Franklin's lawsuit put the project back in limb, until now.
“I am thrilled to work with Sabrina Owens and the family to do right by Aretha’s legacy,” Elliott said in a statement. “Being able to share this film and the musical genius of Aretha Franklin with her family and the world is an honor. 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.”
Amazing Grace finds Aretha at the top of her vocal powers, backed by a choir at Missionary Baptist Church. Among those present for the live recording were her father, Rev. C.L. Franklin, members of the Ward Family Singers, as well as Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones.
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.