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Aretha Franklin Sues to Block Screening of ‘Amazing Grace’ Documentary at Telluride Film Festival

The festival says it it’s going forward with plans to show the film, which includes footage from a 1972 performance Franklin claims was never authorized for public release

UPDATED 12:44 p.m. PT on Sept. 4, 2015: The Telluride Film Festival is “still planning on screening” the documentary “Amazing Grace,” a spokesperson told TheWrap on Friday.


Aretha Franklin has filed a lawsuit against Telluride Film Festival for emergency injunctive relief to stop scheduled screenings of the documentary “Amazing Grace.”

According to the lawsuit, the documentary film consists mostly of Sydney Pollack-shot footage from Franklin’s 1972 concert performance at the New Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, California. However, the singer claims she never gave permission for the footage to be used in “any commercial context, and has not authorized the public release of the footage.”

Franklin states that she learned “Amazing Grace” would be screened in its full length at the film festival. The lawsuit claims that “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.” It also violated the federal anti-bootlegging statute.

The concert was allegedly filmed with Franklin’s permission, under the agreement that it would “not be publicly or commercially released without the consent of Ms. Franklin.” According to the document, more than 80 percent of the documentary is footage from Franklin’s performance and images of the singer. Moreover, an album was produced from the concert, titled “Amazing Grace,” which went double-platinum and became the best-selling album of her career, and Franklin holds a copyright to this album.

In 2011, Franklin had sued the film’s producer, Alan Elliott, but it settled when Elliott promised that he would not release the film. However, the release of the film through the Telluride Film Festival violates “her contractual, federal statutory and common law rights,” according to the current lawsuit.

The lawsuit also points towards a quitclaim deed that warns that any commercial use of the footage would require Franklin’s permission and the assignee would have to “pay all re-use fees and other compensation required by applicable collective bargaining or individual contracts or otherwise required by the law.”

Therefore, the “Respect” singer called for an emergency order to stop the film festival from showing the film, which is scheduled for Sept. 4, 5 and 6.

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.