Aretha Franklin concert documentary, local choir to open Ebertfest

Aretha Franklin concert documentary, local choir to open Ebertfest

CHAMPAIGN — An Aretha Franklin concert documentary shot nearly 50 years ago will open this year’s Roger Ebert’s Film Festival on April 10.

A live performance by a local choir — the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir of Champaign-Urbana, directed by Noah Brown, Audrey Mock and Terry Napper — will follow.

“We’re super-excited; we’re over-excited; it’s an incredible opportunity for us; and we’re humbled that they asked us for this important event,” Napper said.

The documentary, “Amazing Grace,” directed by the late Sydney Pollack, premiered in New York last year, though the footage involved was shot decades ago. Technical and legal problems had delayed the release of the film.

It was filmed over two nights in 1972 at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, with Franklin returning to her gospel roots at the height of her pop music power. The diva died Aug. 16, 2018.

“Most years, our opening night film has been a 70-millimeter celluloid. This year, it will be 70 millimeters of soul,” said festival host Chaz Ebert.

The festival co-founder said Ebertfest usually ends with a musical. But for the 21st annual festival, Alan Elliott’s painstaking restoration of the musical documentary will open it.

Following the choir’s performance will be an onstage Q&A with “Amazing Grace” producers Elliott and Tirrell D. Whittley.

Film critic Odie Henderson, in a four-star review of “Amazing Grace” for, called the film “a powerful love letter to the black church, offering a soul-shaking introduction for the unfamiliar and a grandmotherly yank of the arm for those who know — it drags you from the theater straight into the pews.”

Only one other film has been announced so far for this year’s festival: “A Year of the Quiet Sun” (1984), a post-World War II romance starring the late Scott Wilson, who had been a frequent Ebertfest guest.

This year’s festival will celebrate the on-air partnership of Roger Ebert and Chicago Sun-Times film critic Richard Roeper in “Ebert & Roeper,” and also involve Roeper in the selection of two films.

Ebertfest is organized in collaboration with the University of Illinois College of Media. Festival passes and a small number of UI student passes can be purchased through, or at the Virginia Theatre box office, 203 W. Park Ave., Champaign, 217-356-9063.

Tickets for individual movies will be available April 1.

Topics (3):Film, Music, People