Like a tantalizing treasure locked in a box, an Aretha Franklin masterpiece has sat just out of reach for more than four decades.
Now the world will finally get a look at “Amazing Grace,” the much-wanted, long-thwarted movie capturing the 1972 church sessions that hatched Franklin’s best-selling gospel album of the same name.
After years of technical snags and legal tangles, the singer’s estate has cleared the way for the film’s release — just in time for Academy Awards consideration.
“Amazing Grace” will premiere Nov. 12 at the DOC NYC film festival in Manhattan, ahead of runs in Los Angeles (Nov. 20-27, Laemmle’s Monica Film Center) and New York (Dec. 7-14, Film Forum). Producers expect to lock down a distribution deal for a wide theatrical release in 2019, and say a special Detroit event is in the works.
“It’s an excellent film. I see it as very pure,” said Sabrina Owens, a niece of Franklin and executor of the estate. “Aretha is around 30 years old. Her voice is crystal clear. It’s just very inspirational, very moving. We think anyone who sees it will get joy out of it.”
Owens and other family members were given a private showing in September at Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, a month after Franklin’s death. Their host was producer Alan Elliott, the L.A. composer and music professor who has been battling to release “Amazing Grace” since obtaining footage rights a decade ago.
In the movie, Franklin is “young and very shy, nothing like the confident, self-assured person we saw later,” said Owens. “She says maybe said five words the entire film. It’s just her standing there singing, with a voice so beautiful and charismatic.”
“‘Amazing Grace’ has been a lost treasure of documentary film-making for over four decades,” DOC NYC artistic director Thom Powers said in a statement. “I can’t think of a bigger honor for a festival than to premiere this film.”
As it sat out of sight through the decades, the filmed 1972 performance took on mythical stature. The Roots’ Questlove is among those who romanticized “Amazing Grace” as a lost cultural artifact needing to be revealed:
“NOTHING has tortured my soul more than knowing one of the GREATEST recorded moments in gospel history was just gonna sit on the shelf and collect dust. Many people have told me rumors about it since before I had a (record) deal,” he wrote on Instagram in 2015.
“The 5 mins I saw of the clip back in 2011 had me JAW DROPPED,” the drummer and late-night TV bandleader wrote.
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