Producer Alan Elliot Transforms Aretha Franklin’s Gospel Album to Big Screen
Aretha Franklin fans are cheering following the news that the “Amazing Grace” documentary, which chronicles the story behind her Grammy Award-winning double album, will hit movie theaters across the nation on April 5.
The film carries special meaning for Angelinos since the live recording took place in 1972 at New Temple Baptist Church on 87th and Broadway in South L.A. In addition, Franklin worked with the Rev. James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir to produce the two-disc set that continues to reign as the top selling live gospel album of all time.
While “Amazing Grace” was screened at the Pan African Film Festival in February, the official L.A. premiere takes place on Sunday, March 31, at New Temple and scores of celebrities, faith leaders and church and community members are slated to attend. The luminaries include producer Alan Elliot, who used raw footage shot by Sydney Pollack to create the film and worked for years to bring it to the big screen.
But the journey was well worth it, said Elliot, who compared the film to a powerful worship service that not only displays Franklin’s deep faith, but also her love of community and commitment to civil rights.
“In telling this movie, we wanted to layer out the many aspects of her life,” explained Elliot. “The tone of the film captures what was intended as a church service and the power of the worship shows how respectful Aretha was of God and how she carried herself on and off the pulpit.”
Outside the church walls, Franklin was quite involved with the civil rights movement, frequently staging concerts to raise money for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s non-violent campaigns and even offering to pay Angela Davis’ bail after Davis was jailed. Most recently, she had reached out to the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, president of Repairers of the Breach nonprofit, to participate in a revival she sponsored.
Under Barber, Repairers of the Breach launched the “Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival” in 2017 to end systemic racism, poverty, environmental destruction and other injustices. The initiative reflects King’s original 1968 campaign to address inequities suffered by minorities and the poor.
“Rev. Barbour involvement represents many things – his ability to draw attention to the Poor People’s Campaign, which was one of Dr. King’s last endeavors, and our ability to keep that message of community out in the consciousness of people,” Elliot said. “To me, it’s not an ancillary part of the movie. It’s part of the larger agenda of ‘Amazing Grace.’”
Barbour will speak during the L.A. premiere to highlight Franklin’s legacy and the importance of uniting to obtain basic rights for all people. Elliot described both the movie and Barbour’s involvement as connecting people with one another and with issues the affect humanity as a whole.
“It’s not just about the ‘Amazing Grace’ movie, but it’s also about where Aretha put her energy and how do we be aware of our responsibility towards the larger [community]. In that way, the movie has a great deal of energy and resonance for what I think people feel when they think about Aretha,” he noted.
“I’m draw to the idea of connectivity to the larger and some people might say that’s God, some people might say that’s community and some might say it’s everything,” said Elliot.
“I do believe that’s it is a world that can use a little bit more love, compassion, morality and humor and that’s what always drew me to this project.”
Los Angeles is just the beginning of the “Amazing Grace” premieres, which are scheduled at venues throughout the U.S. The locations range from the Martin Luther King Museum in Atlanta to the Civil Rights Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, and the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit.