Friday Film Review--"Summer of Soul"
In a summer when the world is still out of kilter, along comes a welcome distraction; a long, lost treasure in the form of a documentary directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson: Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised). Libby Wadman has this week’s Friday Film Review.
The world was wild in the summer of 1969; the Vietnam War was still raging, Neil Armstong walked on the moon and the Woodstock music festival captured its place in history with its counterculture revolution. Meanwhile, another type of revolution was brewing in Harlem, NY. This cultural revolution and celebration of Black pride was as important if not more important than the Woodstock festival, yet it is just now seeing the light of day. An unfortunate testament to the fact that so few people of color have had positions of power in the media and other areas. Taking place on six consecutive Saturdays, the Harlem Cultural Festival became the central fixture of Harlem that summer. Over 300,000 people attended the festival that had a roster of acts equally popular and well known as any at Woodstock.
Summer of Soul is the passion project of Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of the Roots. After being presented with the 50-year-old footage, Questlove agreed to create a documentary bringing this incredible concert series to life…finally! This documentary could stand alone with just the music, but Questlove has carefully interspersed it with interviews, not just from performers, but attendees as well, heightening the sense of community that was this festival. Everyone of all ages sat in the park enjoying the moment. So many things changed or started to change, because of this festival, and yet because of Woodstock and the moon landing, among other factors, most of us alive that summer had no clue it had ever taken place.
Summer of Soul documents an incredible celebration of Black culture with some of the finest R&B, gospel, soul, blues, and jazz performances. A few of the highlights are a young Stevie Wonder playing his own composition for the drums, Nina Simone, the Staples Sisters, and Moms Mabley.
It is a film that should be watched for the history and understanding of the time and all that has happened since, but if nothing else, watch it to see these great musicians come alive on a small, humble stage lifting the spirits and pride of a group of people who have been put down for so long. Despite 50 years of the concert’s footage sitting on a shelf, this festival and its purpose are no less pertinent today than they were during the summer of 1969.
Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised), won the U.S. Grand Jury award at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, and is a foot tapping 1 hour and 58 minutes in length. It is rated PG-13 for some disturbing images, smoking and brief drug material. It is available for in-theater viewing and is currently streaming on HULU.