Producers of the Aretha Franklin documentary “Amazing Grace” held a secret screening on Saturday for buyers at the Toronto International Film Festival, Variety has learned, after pulling the film from the festival’s lineup at the last minute.
“Amazing Grace” was supposed to debut at both Telluride and Toronto, but a lawsuit filed by Franklin blocked its premiere. A federal judge in Denver ruled last week that the concert footage, shot by Sydney Pollack in 1972, couldn’t be shown without Franklin’s consent, forcing the filmmakers to yank it from Telluride, Toronto and the upcoming Chicago Film Festival.
According to sources, the private screening—which is currently in progress—is being attended by about 40 buyers in a theater away from festival venues. Those in attendance include Lionsgate, A24, The Weinstein Company, Bleecker Street, CBS Films, IFC Films as well as a smattering of foreign sales representatives.
It’s unclear if the controversy surrounding the film will help or hurt it from landing a deal, given that the litigation could cast a cloud over its release. On Sept. 4, U.S. District Judge John Kane granted Franklin’s request for a temporary restraining order, barring the producers from screening the film for 14 days. At the time, the producers decided to cancel the film’s Toronto debut as well.
“We are extremely disappointed that Toronto audiences will not be able to see this extraordinary piece of art,” the festival said in a statement after losing “Amazing Grace.” “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.”
The screening on Saturday is not associated with the film festival, but it shows that the producers are intent on getting “Amazing Grace” into theaters. A rep for Franklin didn’t immediately respond to comment.