2021 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL, Utah. — Virtual Sundance movies are still making headlines: The documentary Summer Of Soul (Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, has garnered rave reviews and appears poised for serious success. The movie was awarded the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for Best U.S. Documentary in the 2021 Film Festival.
For Summer of Soul, Questlove resurrected original film footage of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, a series of musical concerts in Mount Morris Park in New York City. (In 1977, Mount Morris Park was renamed Marcus Garvey Park). The original producer of the video footage, Hal Tulchin, filmed the six-weekend event. Over the years, he had tried to find a broadcast partner to license the rights to the film. So, the classic music footage sat dormant in a basement for over 50 years.
The film, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition this year, is not just about the music. It digs deep into the social issues during that time. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in 1968, causing riots throughout New York and the country. In the movie, the Reverend Jesse Jackson talks about his first-hand experience with King just moments before his murder. Summer of Soul includes a video of Jesse Jackson on stage at the Harlem Cultural Festival introducing King’s favorite song. Additionally, Qyestlove collected commentary revealing concert-goers’ disdain and lack of amusement with the 1969 NASA space shuttle landing on the moon: people thought there were bigger problems to solve on the planet.
Throughout the six weeks the documentary focuses on, legendary musicians filled the stage. BB King sang the blues, Stevie Wonder played the drums (and the piano), Sly and the Family Stone introduced their California sounds, Nina Simone delivered what appears to be the first live performance of ‘To Be Young, Gifted, and Black,” Hugh Masekela brought his South African sounds, and the ‘Queen of Gospel,’ Mahala Jackson, served up soul.
“Summer Of Soul shines a light on the importance of history to our spiritual well-being and stands as a testament to the healing power of music.” – Sundance Film Festival.
Learn more about the project from Questlove.
More detail on Questlove’s creative process behind this project from Deadline: