Shadow

Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised)

summer-of-soul

Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised)

Synopsis:
Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) is a feature documentary about the legendary 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival which celebrated African American music and culture, and promoted Black pride and unity.
Advertisement

The forgotten “Black Woodstock” is revisited in Summer of Soul (…or, . From June 29th to August 24th in the summer of 1969, a predominantly black crowd of 300,000 descended upon Mount Morris Park in Harlem for six Sundays, as part of the Harlem Cultural Festival, which featured performances from the likes of Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, The 5th Dimension, B.B. King, and Nina Simone. Despite the concert being filmed at the time, the footage ended up sitting in a basement for 50 years until now, when the festival's impact on black culture can be reexamined.

Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised) is the directorial debut by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, best know as one of the leaders of the hip-hop group The Roots. The film features the never-before-seen footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, which occurred at practically the same time as Woodstock 100 miles away. Organized by singer Tony Lawrence to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination, the Harlem Cultural Festival was presented under the banner of black unity, featuring a wide variety of music, ranging from soul, R&B, gospel, blues, jazz, and Latin.

Summer of Soul is a documentary that relies quite heavily on the archive footage from the Harlem Cultural Festival and it can almost be described as a concert film, as it features full-song performances from many of the well-known acts that were part of this six-week series of concerts. However, the film also features talking head interviews with various performers and attendees, who helped to provide the context about how the Harlem Cultural Festival was one of the turning points of the black experience in America and it was almost organized as a way to keep the black community from burning down New York City, after years of tragedy and disappointment. In fact, at one point the Harlem Cultural Festival is described as being a lot more relevant to the black community than the moon landing, which many believed was a waste of money that could've been better used to help out the people of Harlem.

The original footage of the Harlem Cultural Festival was shot by television veteran Hal Tulchin, who was unable to find a buyer for the footage, which went unseen for five decades. After the footage was unearthed about 5 or so years ago, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson was hired by producer David Dinerstein (A Private War) to work with editor Joshua L. Pearson (What Happened Miss Simone?) to craft a story out of the 40 hours of footage. Since Summer of Soul is primarily made up of this archive footage, it is hard to judge Questlove's skills as a first-time documentary filmmaker, though I will say that the finished product does make sense in terms of story and the performances.

If anything, if there is a criticism that can be laid against Summer of Soul is that there is a bit too much focus on the performances and the film, which is already pushing two hours in length, could have almost been better served as a long-form series, which could have further emphasized the importance of this event. However, as it stands, Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised) does succeed in resurrecting a lost piece of American black music history.

Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised) is streaming in Canada, beginning on July 2, 2021, on Disney+ Star


Related Links

Trailer for Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised)

Become a patron at Patreon!
Advertisement
This post was proofread by Grammarly 

How to Watch Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised)

Streaming Offers for Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised)

Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly is a freelance film critic and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Advertisement