Summer Of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) is a feature documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival.
To begin, we see a shoulder to shoulder crowd that erupts at Stevie Wonder‘s arrival. Wonder then begins to beat the drums, his talent so immense that he mesmerizes the audience even through a TV screen. With each passing moment, the music takes over more and more.
At this time, prior to the “Black Woodstock,” the country’s social unrest was at an all-time high due to the deaths of President Kennedy, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. It was vital to bring the community together.
“I think they had this festival so that they wouldn’t burn the city down,” a concertgoer could be heard Saying.
The festival fulfilled its promise to appreciate the culture while bringing people together to appreciate delicious food and great music. And it wasn’t just important for the attendees, it was equally as important for the performers. This was a theme throughout the documentary but we really saw it when The 5th Dimension watched their set back, noting the significance of the performance.
One of my biggest takeaways from this documentary was the freedom of expression. In Questlove‘s directorial debut, the audience weaves in and out of each of the acts, understanding that each brings something of unique importance to the table. The multi-cultural festival provided a safe space for all of the artists to express themselves without judgment. Whether it was praising God or dancing like no one was watching, music brought these people together to be one.
Many times, a director can struggle with how much raw footage to use of an event vs. how much new footage to include. This, though, is where Questlove really shines. He’s able to highlight the stories from attendees and performers and combine them with the festival footage to make it a truly immersive experience.
This film made such an impact on me that, as the end drew near, I was frustrated. I was frustrated it took this long for me to hear this incredible story. It’s ones that oozes hope, power and inspiration and Questlove brings it to life.
Stay tuned for more from the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. You can find all my coverage here and on Twitter.