In 1972, a year after their massive hit “Woodstock,” Warner Bros set out to produce an Aretha Franklin performance documentary. Producer Alan Elliott completed the film that was shot by Sydney Pollack live over two nights at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles back when Franklin was recording her classic gospel album “Amazing Grace,” her biggest career album.
Pollack filmed with four 16 mm cameras, but due to difficulties syncing the footage, the movie was shelved. Pollack wrote a letter in 1998 to Aretha Franklin about wanting to finish the documentary, which after he died in 2008, Elliot made his passion project. Finally technology caught up 45 years later.
I saw a screening of the work in progress a few years ago at WME in Beverly Hills, which is selling theatrical rights. It’s an amazing, soaring documentary showing Aretha Franklin in all her youthful gospel glory, her voice soaring with the songs of the Lord. Selling distribution rights has been an issue.
The problem is that Franklin, according to the film’s producers, is not willing just to accept money for marketing and promoting the movie when it goes into release, but wants to fight for the rights to the film. She has already hired and fired one lawyer, but her new attorney N. Reid Neureiter did request an injunction to stop the Telluride showing, which was the world premiere.
“Her lawyers are trying to stop us from showing the film,” said festival co-director Julie Huntsinger at a festival opening press conference, after huddling at the rainy opening day brunch with the producers and the festival’s lawyers. “She should be proud of it!” A process server apparently had chased Huntsinger down Main Street and cornered her in a bookstore.
After examining the legal paperwork, the festival released a statement that a Denver, Colorado federal judge had granted the injunction to block the film. (More on the legal details of the case at THR.) After a 90-minute hearing, the judge stated that Franklin had granted permission to shoot the film, but that Elliot, who obtained rights to the movie in 1998, needed her permission to release the film and did not have it. No showings of the film are allowed in the U.S. for the next 14 days. It’s scheduled to show at the Toronto Film Festival on September 10th. This injunction has no bearing in Canada.
The festival replaced the planned 7:30 pm screening at the Chuck Jones Theatre with the documentary “Sherpa.”