Judge Blocks Aretha Franklin Doc From Screening at Telluride

Aretha Franklin Stops 'Amazing Grace' Screening
Rex Shutterstock

A federal judge in Denver has halted a planned screening of “Amazing Grace” at the Telluride Film Festival after Aretha Franklin filed a lawsuit on Friday to prevent its release.

U.S. District Judge John Kane granted Franklin’s request for a temporary restraining order. The producers are enjoined from screening the movie for 14 days, according to a court spokeswoman. The litigation will proceed in the meantime.

According to the Denver Post, Franklin testified by phone from Detroit.

A spokeswoman for the festival said, “A Colorado judge has granted the injunction to block the screening of ‘Amazing Grace’ at Telluride Film Festival. We will be showing ‘Sherpa’ in its place tonight at the Chuck Jones Theatre at 7:30.”

Kane wrote in his order that Franklin “has a high likelihood of success on the merits,” and cited a 2008 quitclaim deed that Alan Elliot, producer of “Amazing Grace,” obtained for the footage that makes reference to the need to get Franklin’s permission before using it.

His order also calls into question plans to screen the movie at the Toronto Film Festival, governed by the copyright laws of Canada. Thom Powers, the programmer for documentaries at the festival, said that they still plan to screen “Amazing Grace.”

In a complaint against Telluride filed in U.S. District Court in Colorado, Franklin contends that the 1972 footage, part of an unfinished film from Sydney Pollack, “was taken with the express understanding that it would not be used commercially without agreement and consent by Ms. Franklin.”

“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,” her complaint states. “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.'”

“They don’t call it ‘show friends,'” the Telluride fest’s executive director Julie Huntsinger said of the ordeal at the press conference.

“[Franklin’s] lawyers are trying to stop us from showing the film,” Huntsinger said. “Let’s just hope the paperwork that is filed has us covered. But [Franklin] should be proud.”

The complaint notes that Franklin previously sued Elliott in 2011 over the footage, and the “lawsuit was resolved after Elliott agreed not to release the film.”

News of her lawsuit was first reported by the Detroit Free-Press.

One of the producers of “Amazing Grace,” Joe Boyd, told the Detroit Free-Press on Thursday, “We are operating under the existing contract between Aretha Franklin and Warner Bros., which has governed the use of footage from this session in the past.”