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Court Rules on Un-Released Aretha Franklin Documentary ‘Amazing Grace’ (Keeps Hope Alive!)

Court Rules on Un-Released Aretha Franklin Documentary 'Amazing Grace' (Keeps Hope Alive!)

“Absent further order of the Court or specific written authorization from Ms. Aretha Franklin, Defendant Alan Elliott, his agents, employees and all working in concert with the Defendant, shall not publicly show, screen, project, display or otherwise release the film ‘Amazing Grace,’ or the 1972 concert footage… Unfortunately, given the complexity of the negotiations and the multiple parties involved (including persons or entities not involved in this litigation), there is, at present, no assurance that a final resolution will be reached in the near term,” the joint motion states. “The Parties are optimistic that the stars will eventually align, but cannot in good conscience represent to the Court that there will be a final resolution in an additional 30 or even 60 days.” ~ From a court statement released today in a decision on the long battle over who has the rights to screen and/or release “Amazing Grace,” the still-unseen 1972 Aretha Franklin documentary (which shows the making of her “Amazing Grace” album more than 40 years ago), directed by the late Sydney Pollack.

The film was to make its long awaited world premiere at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals last year – screenings that were halted after Franklin’s attorneys filed a complaint citing the right to the use of her name and likeness, invasion of privacy and more, as reasons for blocking any screenings or release of the film without her explicit consent: “The film is the functional equivalent of replaying an entire Aretha Franklin concert without her consent.”

After last year’s filing, in response to the decision made by the film’s producers to withdraw the film from the 2015 Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival issued the following statement: “We are extremely disappointed that Toronto audiences will not be able to see this extraordinary piece of art. The footage in the film is truly a cinematic treasure of twentieth century music and we hope global audiences will have opportunity to experience this film once a resolution is found.”

At the time, in a widely-publicized event, in an 11th-hour legal bid, Franklin’s attorneys were able to get a temporary restraining order that would prevent any screenings or release of the film without her approval. Today’s ruling makes that restraining order permanent.

In a strongly worded statement, Judge John L. Kane of the United States District Court for Colorado said  “a film that essentially recreates the entire concert experience is not fair use of this footage.”

This official ruling specifically stops any screenings of the film, although it doesn’t mean that it will never be released. It just gives all sides of the quarrel the necessary time to work out a deal that is favorable to each (producer Alan Elliott and his team on one side, and Aretha Franklin on the other), so that the film can eventually be put in front of paying audiences.

Hence, it’s not over, and I’m sure terms of the film’s release will eventually be reached.

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, Franklin and her attorney Alan Reed sued, seeking an injunction preventing the film’s release. But the case was apparently resolved when she believed that Elliott had no intention of releasing it, without Franklin’s permission to use her likeness in the film before it could be screened publicly – permission Aretha wasn’t ready to give – maybe without certain contractual concessions first being made.

Aretha was reportedly open to negotiating a deal with the film’s producers, so, as I said 5 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!

While we wait for more on this story, check out a trailer for the film below:

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