TIFF ’15: Producers pull Aretha Franklin doc from fest

The Toronto International Film Festival has cancelled screenings of a documentary about Aretha Franklin's 1972 album Amazing Grace in the wake of a legal dispute between the Queen of Soul and the film's producers.
September 8, 2015

A documentary about the recording of Aretha Franklin’s 1972 album Amazing Grace will not screen at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The festival said in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon that the film has been pulled from this year’s line-up in response to the producers’ decision to withdraw the doc from TIFF, days after it became the subject of a legal dispute between the team and Franklin.

“We are extremely disappointed that Toronto audiences will not be able to see this extraordinary piece of art,” the festival said in a statement. “The footage in the film is truly a cinematic treasure of 20th century music and we hope global audiences will have opportunity to experience this film once a resolution is found.”

On September 4, a federal judge in Denver granted the Detroit singer’s request for an emergency injunction blocking its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival. The Queen of Soul argued that the film violated her right to privacy, her rights to use and control her name and likeness and her contractual and intellectual rights.

The Associated Press reported Franklin testified by telephone that she had objected to the use of the footage featured in the doc for years. Attorneys for Telluride countered that a recently discovered 1968 contract signed by Franklin allowed for the footage to be used, but the judge said that document appeared to only relate to music recordings.

“Justice, respect and what is right prevailed and one’s right to own their own self-image,” Franklin said in a statement issued to The Associated Press on Saturday (September 5).

Shot over two nights in 1972 by the late Sydney Pollack, the film documents the recording sessions at Los Angeles’ New Temple Missionary Baptist Church that became Franklin’s seminal Amazing Grace album. The doc was initially abandoned due to audio synching issues with its 16 mm film stock and vaulted until producer Alan Elliott convinced Pollack and late Atlantic Records executive Jerry Wexler to review the project.

Prior to news of the film’s showing at Telluride being made public, Franklin and her attorney told the Detroit Free Press they may seek an injunction to prevent the film’s release, even though, in her words, “It isn’t that I’m not happy about the film, because I love the film itself.”

“It’s just that… well, legally, I really should just not talk about it, because there are problems,” she told the paper in late August. “If those problems are not cleared up, you could very well see an injunction.”

The impacted TIFF screenings are September 10 at 6 p.m., September 12 at 11:45 a.m. and September 20 at 3:30 p.m.

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Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.