Aretha Franklin Stops Telluride ‘Amazing Grace’ Screening; TIFF Still On – Update

UPDATE adds Franklin statement Saturday: Judge John Kane has granted Aretha Franklin a temporary restraining order against tonight’s screening of Amazing Grace at the Telluride Film Festival. Franklin said in a statement issued Saturday that “Justice, respect and what is right prevailed and one’s right to own their own self-image.” The TRO (read it here) stops any unspooling of the film by Telluride for the next two weeks while the lawsuit the Queen of Soul filed earlier today progresses.

“We’re proceeding with plans to screen Amazing Grace at TIFF,” TIFF Docs Programmer Thom Powers told Deadline today. The film showing Franklin’s acclaimed 1972 performance at an L.A. church is set to premiere in Toronto on September 10. “We haven’t heard of any legal procedures regarding the film in Toronto,” added Powers.

40-telluride-film-festival-e1377798053203Telluride has confirmed that it won’t be playing the Sydney Pollack-helmed documentary Friday. “We will be showing Sherpa in its place tonight at the Chuck Jones Theatre at 7:30,” a Telluride spokesperson told Deadline today. A previously scheduled outside screening of Sherpa also is going ahead. As of 3:27 PM this afternoon, Amazing Grace was still on the Telluride website. 

At a hearing this afternoon in Denver, the federal judge cited copyright law and the federal anti-bootlegging statute in deeming that the legendary singer had “a high likelihood of success on the merits” going into a lawsuit and that was enough to issue the 14-day TRO. According to those present, Franklin spoke to the court via phone from Detroit. John Markham Tanner and Scott Thomas Rodgers of Denver firm Fairfield & Woods P.C. argued against the TRO on behalf of Telluride. N. Reid Neureiter Wheeler of Trigg O’Donnell LLP represented Franklin.

PREVIOUSLY, 12:17 PM: The Queen of Soul has struck through the courts again to stop the showing of a film about a landmark church performance she did in 1972. Just before the debut of Amazing Grace at the Telluride Film Festival, Aretha Franklin today is seeking to halt the showing of the Sydney Pollack-directed film. She also wants at least $75,000 in damages and further financial punishment to “deter similar future misconduct by others.” The mountain-high film festival kicks off today and runs through September 7.

“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,” says the 10-page complaint filed Friday in federal court in Colorado (read it here) against the National Film Preserve, aka the Telluride festival. “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 complaint says that the quitclaim deed clearly states that any commercial use of the footage can only be used with the singer’s permission – and Franklin did not give her permission, it seems.

This is the second time Franklin has sued over the 43-year-old performance at the New Missionary Baptist Church in LA that was shot by Pollack, who died in 2008. Franklin also went after Elliott in 2011 for his use of the footage, but the two sides worked out a settlement. Or, rather, “the lawsuit was resolved after Elliott agreed to not release the film,” says today’s complaint. While her attempt to get an injunction this time might prove difficult for Franklin, her legal move raises the specter that she next will try to stop the pic form being shown at its planned Toronto Film Festival screening September 10.

Sources up north tell me that they are aware of the Telluride complaint but haven’t heard anything of the TIFF screening being threatened — yet. Toronto still plans to screen Amazing Grace at the Scotiabank Theatre at 6 PM Thursday for the first of three showings. However, in such a litigious environment, that could change in the days to come.

WME is the sales agent for the film at Toronto.

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