Boutique Neon has picked up the North American rights to “Amazing Grace,” the long-delayed concert documentary that follows Aretha Franklin during a seminal 1972 show. The film had its world premiere at DOC NYC and also screened at AFI Fest. Neon will release the film theatrically in 2019, although it has already received an Oscar-qualifying run in New York and Los Angeles.
Per its official synopsis, the long-awaited documentary has now been “realized by Alan Elliott” and “presents Aretha Franklin with choir at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Watts, when the legendary queen of soul was 29 years-old and at the peak of her vocal powers. Elliott produced alongside Joe Boyd, Chiemi Karasawa, Rob Johnson, Sabrina Owens, Tirrell D. Whittley, Jerry Wexler and Joseph Woolf.” A young Sydney Pollack was hired to direct the project, though it remained unfinished for decades.
As IndieWire’s Anne Thompson wrote earlier this year, “Pollack captured a legendary concert: It’s when Franklin recorded her Grammy-winning gospel album ‘Amazing Grace,’ which went double platinum, sold over 2 million copies stateside, and remained her biggest seller over her 50-year career. However, difficulties with syncing the footage shot by four 16 mm cameras meant shelving the project. In 1988, Elliott obtained rights to the movie and Pollack wrote Franklin to tell her he wanted to finish the documentary. Pollack died in 2008, and that’s when Elliot made it his passion project.”
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In 2015, Lionsgate was on board to release the film, until the courts granted Franklin’s lawyers an injunction to stop a scheduled world premiere at Telluride. The legal team also stopped a subsequent screening at Toronto, as well as a Telluride showing the following year, on the grounds that Elliott still needed Franklin’s permission to release the film.
After Franklin’s death earlier this year, Elliott and his producer Tirrell Whittley screened the film for Franklin’s family. As Elliott told IndieWire at the time, “The family loved it. They laughed and cried and sang. It was an emotional time.” Bolstered by their affection for the film, the family and Elliott soon closed a deal, agreeing to partner and hold onto the rights in hopes of retaining more leverage in a distribution deal. It seems to have paid off.
In an official statement, Sabrina Owens, Franklin’s niece and personal representative of the Aretha Franklin Estate, said “’Amazing Grace’ is the heart and soul of Aretha Franklin. This film is authentic and is my aunt to her core. Our family couldn’t be more excited for audiences to experience the genius of her work and spirit through this film.”
The film joins Neon’s growing stable of documentary offerings, including this year’s Sundance hit “Three Identical Strangers,” fall discovery “The Biggest Little Farm,” and the upcoming Sundance premiere “Apollo 11.”