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Film rights can be a tricky business. Just ask Fox, Sony, and Marvel about that. If we told you that an Aretha Franklin concert movie was going to debut this evening at the Telluride Film Festival, you might assume that a film that had made it that far had successfully obtained all the proper rights from, say, Aretha Franklin. Yeah, not so much. The legendary Queen of Soul has filed an emergency injunction to get this evening's screening stopped.
The movie is called Amazing Grace and The Hollywood Reporter has the story of its long road to the cinema, which may not be finished quite yet after all. The film consists primarily of concert footage of Franklin that was shot in 1972. The film was never finished due to audio problems, but prior to his death in 2008, the man who shot the footage, the great director Sydney Pollack, expressed interest in getting the film finished. However, Franklin’s camp is now claiming that that when the footage was taken, it was clear that it would not be released without her approval, which she has never given. Franklin’s attorney’s refer to showing the footage as an "invasion of privacy."
This isn’t the first time Franklin has gone to court over the film. In 2011, the diva sued producer Alan Elliott over the footage but settled out of court. Apparently, Franklin’s original contract has been recovered since then, and it looks to strengthen her claim. While she may have the law on her side, it’s unlikely that tonight's screening will be halted. Court’s don’t usually grant injunctions like this, as blocking the film’s release becomes dicey when put up against the first amendment. Franklin would have to show that she would suffer irreparable harm if the film is shown. Every indication is that Franklin’s performance is strong, thus the reason for filming it, so that would be tough to prove.
The Telluride Film Festival appears to be the real losers here. They’re planning to go ahead with the screening, unless a judge tells them otherwise. While they’re the ones who have had the injunction filed against them, it’s not like they’re the ones who made the movie. They got the piece in good faith from the producers because it was something they thought their attendees would want to watch. It doesn’t appear they had any idea what they were getting involved in.
It’s not clear what Franklin is planning if the injunction is not granted. The movie is set for it’s international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10. She could attempt to get that screening stopped even if this one goes through, but once the movie screens once, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to put the toothpaste back in the tube.