Aretha Franklin Files Last Minute Lawsuit to Stop 'Amazing Grace' Film Festival Screening

by Sophie Schillaci 2:40 PM PDT, September 04, 2015
Photo: Getty Images

Aretha Franklin is demanding some respect.

The 73-year-old singer has filed an emergency injunction to prevent a new documentary, Amazing Grace, from debuting today at the Telluride Film Festival.

The doc was filmed by the late filmmaker Sydney Pollack back in 1972, as Franklin recorded her iconic live album, Amazing Grace, at the New Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, California. The film was meant to be released at the same time as her album, but had reportedly been shelved due to complex issues with the audio. (Pollack reportedly failed to use clapper boards, which would have helped synchronize the sound and picture, resulting in an unusable 20 hours of footage.)

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According to a lawsuit filed on Friday, Franklin aims to "stop the unauthorized public commercial release" of the film. "Ms. Franklin has never given permission for the use of this footage in any commercial context and has not authorized the public release of the footage," the suit reads. "The footage was taken with the express understanding that it would not be used commercially without agreement and consent by Ms. Franklin."

According to a lengthy history of the film published by The Hollywood Reporter, the liner notes on Franklin's original vinyl copy of her 1972 LP promised an accompanying "Sidney" Pollack movie would soon be released.

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THR also notes that the singer previously halted the release of the film in 2011, but she's never said why. In a recent interview with The Detroit Free Press, Franklin went so far as to say, "I love the film itself."

With Pollack's blessing, director Alan Elliot took over the film project following the former's death in 2008. "I understand she's used to getting paid a lot of money to do promotion for a project like this," Elliot told THR. "But I hope at some point she will come around. I always want to do right by Aretha."

A hearing is scheduled for Friday afternoon in a federal court in Denver. For now, Telluride Film Festival's executive director, Julie Huntsinger, says that the screening is "still on." Amazing Grace is also scheduled to screen at the Toronto Film Festival next week.

UPDATE: According to multiple reports, a U.S. District Judge in Denver has officially granted Franklin's emergency injunction motion to stop Friday's screening.

UPDATE: On Tuesday, the Toronto International Film Festival issued an official statement regarding canceled screenings of Amazing Grace. "We are extremely disappointed that Toronto audiences will not be able to see this extraordinary piece of art," the statement read. "The footage in the film is truly a cinematic treasure of twentieth century music and we hope global audiences will have opportunity to experience this film once a resolution is found."