It took nearly 50 years for “Amazing Grace” to land in theaters, but one aspect of its journey appears unfinished. Variety reports that Chiemi Karasawa has filed an arbitration case against Alan Elliott for what she says is unpaid work on the Aretha Franklin documentary. “I have not been paid a dime of my Producer Fee or the amounts that I am entitled to contractually,” she told Variety. “I’m saddened that it’s come to this point, but thrilled that the film is being released for a public audience where it belongs.”
Aspects of her account are backed up by several collaborators. “Chiemi really made everything happen,” Charles Hobson, who produces documentaries and introduced Karasawa to Elliott, said. “I know she got the production house in L.A. She deserves a lot of the credit.” Stephanie Apt, president of Final Cut in New York, confirmed that Karasawa hired Jeff Buchanan to edit the film and was present for much of his work. “She was here (at Final Cut) throughout the edit,” Apt said. “She was most definitely heavily involved in supervising the editing of the film.”
And then there’s Thom Powers, artistic director of DOC NYC, where “Amazing Grace” finally premiered last fall: “Chiemi Karasawa is a producer I’ve had a long-time professional relationship with and I have the highest respect for her integrity and commitment to all the projects she’s worked on,” he said.
Franklin sued Elliott to block the release of the film in 2011 for using her likeness without her permission and prevented it from screening at the Telluride Film Festival four years later. It wasn’t until after her death last August that “Amazing Grace” finally debuted.
Vincent Cox, Elliott’s attorney, said of this latest suit that “the dispute is going to be resolved through arbitration.”