For nearly half a century, fans of Aretha Franklin have been anxiously awaiting a chance to see Amazing Grace, a film documenting two nights of performances at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles in January 1972. Sydney Pollack (Tootsie) headed up the film crew and the late producer Jerry Wexler supervised the recording of the live album that would become not only Franklin’s biggest record but also the best-selling live gospel music album of all time. On Monday, DOC NYC, the largest documentary festival in the country, will host the world premiere.
What’s taken so long? As Chris Willman reports for Variety, the original team behind Amazing Grace ran into problems synching the sound and the picture that proved to be insurmountable, given the technology at the time. For decades thereafter, the film languished in a vault until, twenty-seven years ago, Wexler casually mentioned to producer Alan Elliott, “By the way, we filmed Amazing Grace.” Before Pollack died in 2008, he encouraged Elliott to secure the footage and complete the project. Willman talks with Elliott about the technical and legal challenges he’s faced and overcome in the years since as well as about the upcoming Oscar-qualifying runs for Amazing Grace in Los Angeles and New York. Willman also discusses the film with Sabrina Owens, Franklin’s niece and executor of the estate. “She’s very youthful,” says Owens, “very shy, and her voice is just beautiful throughout, at an age when her voice was absolutely crystal-clear and very pure. It’s very moving and inspirational, and I enjoy it as a fan of the church and gospel music beyond just the fact that it’s my aunt singing.”
Starting today, DOC NYC will be presenting more than 300 films, and the festival points out that forty-seven percent of them have been directed by women. Writers at the online publication Women and Hollywood are spotlighting ten of these, including Alba Sotorra’s Commander Arian, which follows an all-women Kurdish battalion fighting ISIS in Syria. For Filmmaker, Lauren Wissot has selected five titles to highlight, including Documentary Now! Presents Original Cast Album: Co-op, an episode of the IFC series that pokes good fun at D. A. Pennebaker’s Original Cast Album: Company (1970), which documented the cast recording of Stephen Sondheim’s hit musical. Guests at the festival this year will include the artist Christo, the subject of Andrey M. Paounov’s Walking on Water; Michael Moore, who’ll discuss his new film, Fahrenheit 11/9, and no doubt, the midterms as well; and Wim Wenders, whose latest documentary is Pope Francis: A Man of His Word.
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