Aretha Franklin’s 1972 album “Amazing Grace” was a best-selling album. Some even say it’s the greatest gospel album ever recorded.
But what few of us know is that the recording sessions on those two nights in January 1972, at L.A.’s New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, were captured on film by a 4-man camera crew, headed by the late director Sydney Pollack, shooting more than 20 hours of footage.
Now, over 40 years later, the footage has being edited and prepped into a concert film for possible theatrical distribution, billed as a film by Sidney Pollack. Interestingly, Warner Bros. once envisioned the film as part of a double bill theatrical release with “Superfly”! How groovy would that have been?
The studio would later drop the project in September of 1972, not really sure of what to do with a gospel concert movie at the time.
Producer Alan Elliott, who had several conversations with Pollack in the year before his May 2008 death, oversaw the project, working off Pollack’s notes.
We first alerted you to the project early in 2010, when it was thought that the film may actually be released that year; but it wasn’t. A couple of years later, we learned that the producers wanted to release it, however, Aretha and her attorney Alan Reed were reportedly planning to seek an injunction preventing the film’s release.
Apparently, there was an agreement already in place that said the producers had to get Aretha’s permission to use her likeness in the film before it could be released. And Aretha wasn’t ready to give her permission just yet.
It wasn’t really clear why Aretha didn’t want the film released. I guessed that money was likely at the root of it all (isn’t that almost always the case?). Or maybe she was thinking about the biopic she’s been talking about for many years now? Maybe she didn’t want the Pollack film released just yet – certainly not before her own film was made and distributed.
Aretha was reportedly open to negotiating a deal with the film’s producers, so, as I said 4 years ago, there was still a good chance that we’d see the completed project… eventually, especially as January 2012 was the 40th anniversary of the recording, so, at the time, I thought that would certainly be a perfect date for a release.
That never happened! But, slip ahead 4 years to 2015, to news that “Amazing Grace,” the musical documentary, will make its international premiere at the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival in September, as part of its documentary program, which presents a diverse mix of international works featuring a wide array of award-winning directors.
“Emotions run high in this year’s documentaries, from passionate performers to angry protestors,” said TIFF Docs programmer Thom Powers. “These films truly command the big screen with their artistry across many forms of documentary — observational, essayistic, historical and investigative.”
The 40th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 10 to 20, 2015.
Here’s a 2010 trailer for the documentary film (although I’m sure a new edit will be released eventually):