Will Aretha Franklin's Long-Delayed 'Amazing Grace' Documentary Finally Come Out?

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Aretha Franklin photographed on May 11, 1968.

Franklin prevented the release of the 1972 concert film for years.

In January 1972, Aretha Franklin performed two now-legendary gospel concerts at Los Angeles’ New Temple Missionary Baptist Church. Six months later, Atlantic Records released Amazing Grace, a double live album culled from the shows that went on to be certified double-platinum by the RIAA and is one of the top-selling gospel albums of all time, as well as one of the most critically acclaimed.   

Director Sydney Pollack made a companion documentary of the concerts, but the movie has never come out, and for the past three years, it's been tied up in litigation with Franklin preventing the film’s release.    

Following the iconic singer’s death on Thursday (Aug. 16), will Amazing Grace finally surface? Alan Elliott, who acquired the rights from Warner Bros. in 2007, remains optimistic, telling Billboard, “I hope we will have more news soon.”    

Warner Bros. shelved the film in 1972 allegedly over issues synchronizing the sound to the picture, according to a 2016 profile on Franklin in The New Yorker. After acquiring the footage, Elliott planned to work with Pollack on the film, but the director died the next year. Elliott subsequently solved the sound issues, but Franklin never signed off on allowing the film’s release and maintained that Elliott was contractually obligated to get her approval before showing it.  

Elliott came close to showing the film at the Telluride Film Festival in 2015 before Franklin successfully sued at the last minute to halt a public screening. She similarly stopped a private showing of the film to potential investors several days later at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. 

But the story doesn’t end there: In 2016, Elliott enlisted the aid of Concord Music, who endeavored to assist in untangling any remaining legal issues. “Concord was helping Alan sort out some consent issues with [Franklin] in the aftermath of her getting an injunction against the release of the film,” says Concord Music CEO Scott Pascucci. “We put up what we thought was a pretty substantial amount of money as a payment to her. We went through a couple of different  representatives.” He declined to say how much the label offered.

Elliott and Pascucci went to the 2016 Telluride Festival with the film in hand in case they got Franklin’s permission to show it, but the clearance never came.  After the 2016 festival, talks continued with paperwork being sent to Franklin’s attorneys, but after some back-and-forth, Franklin’s team quit responding, Pascucci says. Concord quit trying in 2017. 

A few hours after Franklin’s death, Elliott told Billboard in an email that despite Franklin stopping its release, “Ms. Franklin said ‘I love the film.’ Unfortunately for all of us, she passed before we could share that love,” he said. “Amazing Grace is a testament to the timelessness of Ms. Franklin’s devotion to music and God. Her artistry, her genius and her spirit are present in every note and every frame of the film. We look forward to sharing the film with the world soon.”

When asked if there was a deal in place or if he would start anew with Franklin’s estate after an appropriate time, Elliott declined to comment further.

The release would be welcomed by fans who have waited decades to the view the film, which features Franklin performing spine-tingling versions of "Mary, Don't You Weep," "Amazing Grace," and "You'll Never Walk Alone," among others.  The rare few who have seen it say it is transcendent. “Watching that film in my mind confirms beyond any doubt that she’s the greatest female American singer of all time,” Pascucci says. “That’s why we wanted the film out. You watch it and your jaw drops. We thought it was an extraordinary piece of film.” 

Jampol Artist Management’s Jeff Jampol, whose firm handles the estates of such clients as The Ramones, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin, agrees, adding that it serves as an important element in the Queen of Soul’s legacy. 

“I’ve seen cuts of that documentary, and it is brilliant,” Jampol says. “It shows her in all her glory and combines the best of secular and gospel. It’s hair-raising. Presuming all of [Franklin’s] concerns can be addressed and that everybody feels it’s a great film and it’s authentic to her legacy, it’s critical that it see the light of day.”

Franklin’s representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.