Late last week, the Queen of Soul shut down Telluride’s debut of Amazing Grace, about her legendary 1972 L.A. church performance. Today, Aretha Franklin saw the plug pulled on the documentary being shown at the Toronto Film Festival this week.
“We are extremely disappointed that Toronto audiences will not be able to see this extraordinary piece of art,” Toronto organizers said today of the film’s producers withdrawing the pic from the festival. “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.” Nothing has been filed in the Canadian courts to stop the screening of the film — as it was in Colorado last week. However, sources say the producers were anticipating something happening and decided to move first after a weekend of negotiations with Franklin’s camp proved fruitless.
“We hope to resolve the negative issues as soon as possible in order to allow this highly anticipated work to reach its intended audience,” said docu producer Alan Elliot today.
“Listen, it’s an inconvenience, but in the larger scheme of the festival with some 300 films, you always know as a programmer, you win some and you lose some,” TIFF Docs Programmer Thom Powers told Deadline this morning after the film was pulled. “We have a lot of strong music documentaries like Little Girl Blue about Janis Joplin so Toronto audiences will still have a lot of strong music docs to choose from.”
The Sydney Pollack-directed Amazing Grace was set to debut Thursday at TIFF and be shown on two other occasions. On September 4, Franklin and her lawyers were granted an almost unprecedented temporary restraining order against the pic being shown that night at Telluride. Her complaint filed earlier that day cited copyright infringement and right of publicity issues with the film. Franklin has tangled with Amazing Grace before in the courts; a 2011 tussle with producer Elliott ended in a settlement. In her latest legal challenge in Colorado, Franklin’s attorneys argued, and federal judge John Kane agreed, that the quitclaim deed said that any commercial use of the footage from Franklin’s ’72 New Missionary Baptist Church performance can only be used with her permission — and she did not give it for either Telluride or TIFF.
WME is the sales agent on the film, which appeared to have a future on HBO according to Franklin’s filing last week. Hard to sell a pic when no one can see it.
Toronto organizers say Amazing Grace will be coming down from the festival’s website ASAP. The September 10 screening is cancelled outright, while the September 12 screening will be replaced with the film Northern Soul. A replacement film for the September 20 screening is expected to be announced soon. TIFF 2015 runs September 10-20.