A drama is brewing at the just-started Telluride Film Festival and one not on screen. Legendary singer Aretha Franklin filed papers late Thursday to halt the world premiere of the 1972 concert film Amazing Grace from screening. The 43-year-old film directed by the late Oscar winning filmmaker Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa) has had a storied history but looked like it would finally see the light of day with a premiere at the 2015 Telluride Film Festival and a further showcase at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival. Those plans are put on hold as a Denver district judge has granted Franklin a temporary injunction preventing the film from making its planned screening at Telluride on Friday evening.
In the lawsuit filed by Franklin, she claims that the deal for showing the film necessitated her consent and that the film was a violation of likeness and image. The concert film centers around the live recording of Franklin’s classic 1972 gospel album- the top selling album of her career and still the highest selling traditional gospel LP in history- at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Part of the reason why the movie was never screened prior had to due with a mistake Pollack made while shooting the documentary- he forgot to sync the sound.
According to the lawsuit, 80% of the 87-minute run time of Amazing Grace featured either images of the singer or footage of her performing the album, an infringement of her intellectual property rights, according to the singer. As precedent, Franklin and her legal team used a decades-old copyright case involving Elvis Presley- an injunction was granted to a documentary centered around the singer that included video clips. The lawsuit also states (you can read the full complaint here):
Allowing the film to be shown violates Ms. Franklin’s contractual rights, her intellectual property rights, her rights to use and control her name and likeness, and represents an invasion of her privacy.” The filing goes on to state that “the raw footage has been locked away in the vaults of Warner Brothers studios for nearly forty years, there is no urgency in its immediate release.
This puts a major wrench into programming at Telluride as Amazing Grace was one of the more eagerly anticipated screenings of the festival. With its world premiere blocked (for now, at least), it remains to be seen when and if the movie will be seen in the future. Allegedly, plans were in the way for the movie to possibly play on HBO or PBS after screening at Toronto. The injunction puts a two-week restraining order from screening the title so there is a chance the movie will have its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. At any rate, Franklin has thwarted the further distribution of the film for the time being. Telluride will screen the documentary Sherpa in its place.
In an ironic twist, the singer allegedly told one reporter, she “loves” the movie.