It's something of a miracle that Amazing Grace even exists.

The Aretha Franklin concert film was shot in 1972 and it's taken 47 years for it to journey from the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles to global release, reports

Director Sydney Pollack filmed Franklin singing with the Southern California Community Choir, a performance that is considered by many to be Franklin at her peak, during the live recording of her seminal Amazing Grace gospel album.

There's a pulsing energy from not just Franklin but from the electrified crowd, which includes Mick Jagger standing against the back wall.


But Pollack's footage was to remain locked in a Warner Bros vault for years after a technical mistake (no one used clapperboards during filming) meant the visuals and the audio couldn't be synced.

That is, until producer Alan Elliott bought the raw footage and spent another 10-plus years shepherding it from hours and hours of raw, unsynced footage to the transcendent concert film that has been released in Australian cinemas this week.

Elliott's father was the musical director for the Grammys when he was a kid, and he remembers when, even at nine years old, Franklin's Amazing Grace had been sent over.

"I remember my father playing it knowing there was something very magical about the record. I was always struck by the community that record felt like to me," Elliott told

In 1990, Elliott, then a music executive, heard about the Pollack footage.

"I felt like there should be no reason people wouldn't see it. It felt like such a glaring error that would only need a little bit of addressing. I thought it would be easy. I was wrong," he said.

"There's a certain stupidity or blind trust that I bought into very early with this project for whatever reason and I'll never know why. But it felt like this was something I was supposed to do."

Elliott wouldn't buy the rights to the footage for another decade-and-a-half.


At the time, Elliott said there were "bits and pieces" of the footage, and he later found out there was about two hours of footage that had been put together largely thanks to the work of choir director Alexander Hamilton. But in the end, Elliott's team had to complete the syncing of 14 hours of footage and audio.

"And it wasn't until everything was synced together that we had a very real conversation about whether there was enough to make a motion picture," Elliott said.

"It was 2008 and we were in the editing room of Deluxe Laboratories in Burbank and the head of post-production was there. They were smiling when I walked in and there was this sort of happy affirmation. I remember saying at the time, 'I think we have a movie now'."

Even then, it would take another 10 years for Amazing Grace's release. This time, the roadblock would be Aretha Franklin herself who sued twice to stop its release, first in 2011 and then again in 2015.

In the 2015 instance, Amazing Grace was scheduled to be shown at the Telluride Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, and Franklin filed an emergency injunction in court to stop the screenings, reported The Hollywood Reporter.

Franklin never went on the record as to why she wanted to stop the film's release, but she told the Detroit Free Press that she "loves" the movie.

Elliott said he felt "overwhelmingly sad" that Franklin contested the release.

"I say it's like a Freudian nightmare where you keep asking, 'Mama, why don't you love me?' because the movie is a love letter to her, and why wouldn't she love it?" Elliott said.

"At the time, I didn't know she had pancreatic cancer and I can understand why she didn't want the movie to come out. She was dying of cancer and I had written what amounted to a eulogy to her, and that's something I can understand.

"Back then, it was very hard to live through but in hindsight it made sense. I believe it was about her being sick more than anything."

After Franklin died last year, her family gave their permission for the film's release.

For Elliott, the reaction to the film vindicates the arduous experience of its prolonged birthing process. He's toured with it all over the US and the world, screening it for audiences who walk out with a lot of energy.

But it's also been the reaction from the surviving members of the band and choir from those two magical days in 1972.

"Their love and support throughout the project has meant so much. They are the movie as much as she is. Other than her affirmation, their affirmation means so much to me," Elliott said.

"Amazing Grace was the defining moment of Aretha's career, and we are blessed to have this artefact of her at the absolute height of her power."