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Aretha Franklin Blocks ‘Amazing Grace’ Documentary, Protecting Her Well-Earned Artistic Rights

Aretha Franklin has run out of mercy.  The Queen of Soul was awarded a last minute injunction on Friday afternoon to halt the documentary, Amazing Grace, from screening at the Telluride Film Festival this past weekend in Colorado.

According to the lawsuit recovered by Deadline, the claim states, “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.  It is also in direct and specific violation of the quitclaim agreement by which the footage was obtained from the Warner Brothers organization by Mr. Alan Elliott, the purported producer of Amazing Grace.”

The temporary restraining order will last 14 days. The presiding judge ruled in her favor because the film predominantly features Franklin’s performance and she had no prior knowledge of the film’s showing at Telluride, violating a previous agreement.

Amazing Grace documents Aretha Franklin’s recording and performance in 1972 at New Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles—it’s also the namesake of Franklin’s live, besting selling gospel album.  The footage was shot by legendary director Sydney Pollack.  Pollack didn’t sync the sound but struck an agreement with Franklin not to use the footage without her consent.  The documentary sat unfinished until Pollack’s passing in 2008.  After that time, the film’s producer, Alan Elliot, oversaw the restoration process.  Elliot and Franklin clashed over the documentary for the first time in 2011 but were able to reach a settlement.

It’s important to note that the lawsuit is specific in naming The National Film Preserve Ltd or the Telluride Film Festival as defendants.  Though the Telluride Film Festival will be over, Amazing Grace is still slated to show at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10 in Canada(The film has been pulled from the Toronto International Film Festival).  It’s an interesting legal dilemma— artist entitlement and commercial use of artists’ work is a paramount issue in a digital age where copyright laws are becoming more fluid or ignored altogether.

Aretha Franklin is a legend, and seeing a historic performance from such an early period in her career would be illuminating.  Hopefully, an understanding can be reached and Amazing Grace will see the light of day.


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