The Aretha Franklin concert film Amazing Grace will open this year’s Roger Ebert film festival in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.
The University of Illinois says the 1972 film directed by Sydney Pollack has been stored in a vault for decades, but it has now been restored and released. It will kick off this year’s Ebertfest followed by a live community choir performance.
The Roger Ebert Film Festival co-founder Chaz Ebert says that instead of opening with the traditional musical, this year the festival will begin with “a glorious, gospel-infused high note.”
The annual festival honors Ebert, the late Chicago Sun-Times film critic and an Illinois graduate. It runs from 10 to 13 April at Champaign’s Virginia Theatre. More films and a screening schedule are to be released.
Amazing Grace is a concert film that tracks Aretha Franklin’s return to gospel music in 1972 with the choir at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Watts, when the legendary queen of soul was 29 years old and at the peak of her vocal powers.
Franklin died in August 2018 at the age of 76, after which the singer’s family and filmmakers came to an agreement.
Sabrina Owens, Franklin’s niece and personal representative of the Aretha Franklin Estate, said in a statement: “Amazing Grace is the heart and soul of Aretha Franklin. This film is authentic and is my aunt to her core. Our family couldn’t be more excited for audiences to experience the genius of her work and spirit through this film.”
Amazing Grace made its premiere at DOC NYC, where Variety film critic Owen Gleiberman praised the film, writing:
“She sounds like the holiest of trumpets, with every note piercingly bright yet as soft as velvet. Listening to Franklin, you feel like you could ride that voice into the heavens. She’s not just a singer, she’s a human chariot.”