If there’s one voice the world won’t ever forget, it’s Aretha Franklin’s.
Back in August, millions were heartbroken to hear the news of Franklin’s passing. Her memorial service was attended by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and the “Empress of Soul,” Gladys Knight.
Franklin’s work of six decades cemented her as both a powerhouse in music and an icon of civil rights.
After watching Franklin’s performance at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors, former president Barack Obama said, “American history wells up when Aretha sings.”
Recently, a long-buried project—“Amazing Grace,” a documentary of Franklin recording her 1972 gospel album of the same name—has resurfaced.
At the time of its recording, however, a mistake on the part of director Sydney Pollack and his crew left them with hours of unsynced picture and sound.
It wasn’t until several years later that producer Alan Elliott resuscitated the abandoned project and enlisted editor Jeff Buchanan to aid in a daunting restoration effort.
Though the film was completed by 2010 and ready to appear at the Telluride Film Festival in 2015, Franklin (though she had claimed to “love the film itself”) sued Elliott for appropriating her likeness without permission and blocked the film from being shown.
There’s much confusion and speculation as to why Franklin prevented the documentary from being released. Following Franklin’s passing, however, the film was shown to Franklin’s family members and they gave their blessing for it to be shown to audiences.
On the “Amazing Grace” documentary, Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson said that the film’s audience is “bearing witness to one of the greatest performances of all time.”
“We get to be part of a ritual of remembrance, a cry for mercy, and a long plea for justice,” Wilkinson said.
Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times observed that Franklin, “a vision in her shimmering caftans,” seems on film to “radiat[e] an otherworldly calm.”
“The energy of her performance is electrifying; you see her sweat, but you never see her strain,” Chang said.
The 87-minute film premiered Nov. 12 at the DOC NYC festival.
It will run for a limited release at festivals in order to qualify for the upcoming Oscars before opening for general audiences in theaters early next year.
It’s been a long time coming for this documentary gem, but audiences will soon be able to experience the soul-shaking power of Franklin’s music as they never have before.