‘Amazing Grace’ Opens Pan African Film Festival to Tears and Applause

Amazing Grace is already a hit with Aretha Franklin fans, before the film has even been released.

The Queen of Soul’s fans attended a special screening of the 1972 documentary Thursday night at the Directors Guild of America Theater Complex in Los Angeles, kicking off the 2019 Pan African Film Festival (PAFF).

The audience included PAFF Executive Director Ayuko Babu, actor-director Danny Glover, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price, who presented the film’s producers — Alan Elliott and Tirrell D. Whittley — with a city proclamation. Alexander Hamilton, who directed the choir in the film, also attended.

The film documents the recording of Franklin’s 1972 gospel album titled Amazing Grace at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Although the documentary was intended to be a companion piece to what became the best-selling gospel album ever, it spent years on the shelf due to copyright and technical issues.

Fans praised the doc during the post-screening Q&A with the film’s producers. Urban Hollywood 411 founder, Anita Bennett, moderated the Q&A on behalf of the African American Film Critics Association.

Some people in the audience said they cried while watching Amazing Grace because they were so moved by the music.

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The movie’s road to financing was also discussed, with Elliott saying “no one” would pick up the project. The producer said he used his own money and connections to correct technical issues and restore the film because he believed in the project.

As for bringing the documentary to theaters, Elliott — who is white — believes race was a factor in his struggle to find a distributor. He credited Spike Lee with helping him get distribution after the BlackKklansman director saw the documentary at a screening in New York.

“Spike said, ‘talk to me, black man to black man,'” Elliott recalled as the audience laughed.

“I told him, if Paul McCartney had died… and they found a movie of Sgt. Pepper being filmed, and it was the best reviewed film of the year, and Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and Apple didn’t bid on it at all. What would you say?” Elliott explained.

He said Lee then hosted screenings in Los Angeles to spread the word about the film. Distribution company Neon picked up the film’s North American rights in December 2018.

The movie has also acquired distribution deals in several foreign markets, Whittley revealed.

After screening the movie at the DOC NYC festival in November 2018, Whittley and Elliott are now focused on promotion. “We are working on a grassroots marketing campaign,” Whittley explained to the audience.

The movie is set for a spring 2019 theatrical release, and producers noted that an official premiere date will be announced soon.