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Telluride: Door Remains Open for Embattled Aretha Franklin Documentary

After two years of attempting to program Sydney Pollack’s swan song, “Amazing Grace” — a documentary culled from concert footage featuring Aretha Franklin shot in 1972 — Telluride Film Festival organizers have pulled the plug … for now.

“I think that Aretha out-arm wrestled me too much,” Telluride executive director Julie Huntsinger said in an interview about this year’s lineup, which did not include the film.

In 2015, Franklin sued to prevent a planned public screening of the film at the fest. In a complaint against Telluride filed in U.S. District Court in Colorado, the music icon contended that the 1972 footage “was taken with the express understanding that it would not be used commercially without agreement and consent by Ms. Franklin.” Plans to exhibit the movie, Franklin’s complaint read, were in violation of that quitclaim agreement she had with the film’s producer, Alan Elliott.

Franklin went on to receive another injunction after Elliott screened the film privately to prospective buyers at the Toronto Film Festival a week later.

Last year, Telluride had every intention of finally premiering the film. It was again included on schedule materials for the festival. But it was pulled at the last minute, with the festival releasing a statement that read, in part:

“[Telluride] respects the decision of the court and the rights and wishes of all parties involved,” fest organizers said. “The festival will continue to reserve a space for the title in its program guide should the legal situation change and should the parties all agree that the film may be screened.”

No agreement was ever reached, though Huntsinger and TIFF co-founder Tom Luddy remain in contact with Elliott on the matter.

“[Franklin’s] resolve for that not being shown is so intense, and I don’t think any of us really understand it all the way,” Huntsinger said of Franklin’s convictions. “I think if there was a reason that people understood better, it would be easier to wage a battle and do it. But there is just this deep-seated desire for something to not happen right now, so I’d rather just respect her wishes. I do think it’s a shame, but it is her, and it’s her life. I’ve got to respect that.”

Huntsinger was hopeful that the tide can someday change, however.

“I think it’s safe to say you will see it at some point in Telluride,” she said. “When the conditions are right, it will be one of the first things we’ll be excited to put on the program.”

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