Greenwich Entertainment has acquired North American rights to Billie, James Erskine’s documentary about the life of iconic jazz singer Billie Holiday that world premiered over Labor Day weekend at the Telluride Film Festival. A 2020 release date is in the works from the distributor, which in 2019 released Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, which was one of the year’s top-grossing documentaries.
Billie features newly unearthed interviews from those who knew Holiday best — Charles Mingus, Tony Bennett, Sylvia Syms and Count Basie among them — and features performances restored into color for the first time. It helps paint the picture of a singer with breathtaking talent and global popularity, and whose song “Strange Fruit” exposed the realities of black life in America and earned her powerful enemies over her short, turbulent life. She died almost penniless in 1959 at age 44.
The documentary weaves her story through one of her most enamored fans, Linda Lipnack Kuehl, who in 1971 set out to write a definitive biography. Over eight years, she tracked down and recorded over 200 hours of interviews with the characters that knew Holiday personally. Kuehl’s book was never finished, and the tapes never before heard until now.
New Black Films’ Victoria Gregory and Barry Clark-Ewers and REP Documentary’s Laure Vaysse produced, with Concord’s Scott Pascucci and Sophia Dilley exec producers along with Altitude’s Will Clarke, Andy Mayson and Mike Runagall. The film was which was made with cooperation of the singer’s estate.
“Documenting the life of an icon is a daunting task, but James rose to the occasion with a mesmerizing tribute that captures the talent and torment of the most influential jazz singer of all time,” Greenwich’s Andy Bohn said. “Audiences will swoon at the performance footage and be riveted by the intimate revelations in these previously unheard interviews.”
The deal was negotiated by Bohn with Endeavor Content and Altitude on behalf of the filmmakers. Altitude is repping international sales.