Amazing Grace, a documentary about Aretha Franklin’s two-day gospel performance in January 1972 at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, will premiere in New York City nearly 50 years after it was filmed.
According to The New York Times, the Sydney Pollack-directed feature will play on Nov. 12 at Doc NYC, a festival dedicated to documentary storytelling, and have one-week runs in Los Angeles and New York in November and December, respectively. Amazing Grace, described as “one of the most famous films never released,” will then qualify for the 2019 Academy Awards.
In the film, the 30-year-old Franklin saw a return to her gospel roots. The music recorded resulted in the album Amazing Grace, which is the best-selling live gospel album of all time, according to according to ranker.com.
“Her fans need to see this film, which is so pure and so joyous,” Sabrina Owens, Franklin’s niece and executor of her estate, said. “And the world needs to see it. Our country, it’s in such a state right now.”
The original release was stopped because of technical issues with syncing the audio and Pollack’s footage. In 2007, producer Alan Elliott bought the reels and digitally restored them after Pollack became sick.
“I knew Sydney had terminal cancer,” Elliott told The Hollywood Reporter. “So I called him and started to say, ‘Look, I’m really sorry about you being sick.’ He said, ‘I’m not sick — I’m f***ing dying.’ He had a way of getting right to the truth of the matter. He said, ‘You know this [material] better than I do. So I’m going to go to Warner Bros. and make sure you get to finish this movie.'”
Elliott had plans to screen to the documentary in 2011 and 2015, but Franklin’s lawyers blocked the releases. It was claimed that the producer didn’t have the rights to use the Queen of Soul’s likeness.
After Franklin’s death in August, Elliot gave a private screening of the documentary to her family and estate. Owens was moved by the film and told Variety it was “very moving and inspiring, an opportunity for those individuals who had not experienced her in a gospel context to see how diverse her music is.”
Elliot was granted rights to the film following the screening. The late arrival of Amazing Grace will likely throw a wrench in the Oscar’s documentary category, but the film’s producers have their eyes on a more prominent award.
“Aretha would want us going for a best picture,” Elliott said. “And she’d want to win, too.”