A long-lost documentary about Aretha Franklin will finally see the light of day, nearly five decades after it was filmed.
Back in 1972, director Sydney Pollack (“Tootsie”, “Out of Africa”) trained his cameras on the Queen of Soul as she performed at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in L.A.’s Watts neighbourhood, documenting a two-night stint as she recorded an album that would become “Amazing Grace”, one of her most critically acclaimed records and one of the best-selling gospel records ever recorded.
The footage, however, was never released; Pollack reportedly didn’t use clapper boards when recording, which would have allowed him to sync the filmed footage with the recordings in the pre-digital age; because the process of syncing was so painstaking and laborious, the film’s studio eventually gave up on the project when the planned release date was missed. While the album went on to win great acclaim, the footage of Franklin’s performance was left to gather dust in a vault.
Forty-six years later, that film — “Amazing Grace” — will be seen for the first time, with the New York Times reporting it will make its long-awaited debut at the Doc NYC film festival on Nov. 12.
According to the Times, Franklin sued repeatedly over the years to keep the film from being released; ironically, her death earlier this year cleared the way for fans to see what is said to be one of her finest performances ever captured on film: an emotional, awe-inspiring 11-minute version of “Amazing Grace”.
“Her fans need to see this film, which is so pure and so joyous,” Sabrina Owens, Franklin’s niece and the executor her estate, told the Times. “And the world needs to see it. Our country, it’s in such a state right now.”
One of the film’s producers, Alan Elliott (Pollack passed away in 2008), says he expects the film to be released in January 2019, possibly coinciding with the birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
“We want to honour her legacy,” said Elliott. “Her artistry and her genius are alive in every frame.”
Elliott is hoping the film is released in time to qualify for the 2019 Oscar nominations.
“Aretha would want us going for a best picture,” he added. “And she’d want to win, too.”