Long-Lost, Sydney Pollack-Directed Aretha Franklin Documentary to Premiere at Toronto

Sydney Pollack, the acclaimed director of Tootsie, Three Days of the Condor, The Way We Were, Out of Africa, and The Firm, died seven years ago. But he left behind one last, unfinished film, which will finally see the light of a projector this fall—and it’s a tantalizing project indeed.

The filmmaker shot the documentary Amazing Grace clear back in 1972, relatively early in his career. It captures Aretha Franklin’s performances at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles that January, which were recorded and released as a double album. That album won a Grammy and went double platinum, becoming not only the best selling live gospel album of all time, but the biggest seller of Franklin’s career.

However, Pollack’s documentary stalled, according to the Los Angeles Times, when audio sync issues rendered only a fraction of the 20 hours of raw footage usable. But shortly before his death, Pollack reached out to former record producer Alan Elliott, who had worked on the film, and asked him to complete it. Elliott was able to use current editing technology to sync up and clean up the footage, and he finished the film—only to spend five years wrangling over ownership and distribution rights with Warner Brothers (who initially financed the effort) and Franklin (who is not participating in its release).

Now that it’s finally cleared for public exhibition, Amazing Grace will premiere at this year’s Toronto Film Festival. “I don’t want to oversell it, but if it’s not the premiere document of Americana popular music, it’s close, in my opinion,” Elliott told the Times. “There are not too many that get into this conversation.”