The documentary/concert film for Aretha Franklin’s 1972 gospel album “Amazing Grace,” which had been mired in technical and legal limbo for 46 years before its dramatic and unexpected debut last month at the DOC NYC festival, has been picked up by film distributor Neon for a nationwide release in March.
Since its debut, the live recording has rapidly picked up steam with a last-minute, Oscar-qualifying run in New York and Los Angeles theaters, earning a rapturous response from a legion of admirers, including filmmaker Spike Lee.
“One of the greatest concerts ever put to film,” said Lee, who hosted a private screening of the film in Los Angeles on Friday night. “As we know, Aretha is one of the world’s treasures—not just the United States of America, but the world’s treasures.”
The footage was originally filmed by director Sydney Pollack over two nights at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Backed by the Rev. James Cleveland and his Southern California Community Choir, Franklin, at age 29 and the height of her vocal prowess, gave an electrifying performance, singing “Amazing Grace,” “Holy, Holy,” “Never Grow Old” and other songs and hymns with unmatched feeling and intensity.
“It’s a spiritual, religious experience watching that,” Lee told Deadline following the screening. “This film is historic. This documentary is part of America, part of the story of America. The church.”
Franklin’s niece Sabrina Owens said the film is “the heart and soul of Aretha Franklin.”
“This film is authentic and is my aunt to her core,” Owens said in a statement released by Neon. “Our family couldn’t be more excited for audiences to experience the genius of her work and spirit through this film.”