Friday, July 2, 2021

Summer of Soul Review: A Beautiful Musical Festival Is Finally Revived

“Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised),” A Vulcan Productions Inc. Production, In Association With Concordia Studio, Play/Action Pictures, LarryBilly Productions, Produced by Mass Distraction Media and RadicalMedia, is directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, and produced by Joseph Patel p.g.a., Robert Fyvolent p.g.a., and David Dinerstein p.g.a. Jen Isaacson, Jon Kamen, Dave Sirulnick, Jody Allen, Ruth Johnston, Rocky Collins, Jannat Gargi, Beth Hubbard, Davis Guggenheim, Laurene Powell Jobs, Jeffrey Lurie, Marie Therese Guirgis, David Barse, Ron Eisenberg, Sheila C. Johnson and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson are executive producers.

Release date: July 2, 2021
Running time: 112 minutes
Director: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson 

In his acclaimed debut as a filmmaker, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson presents a powerful and transporting documentary—part music film, part historical record created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion. Over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969, just one hundred miles south of Woodstock, The Harlem Cultural Festival was filmed in Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park).  The footage was never seen and largely forgotten–until now. 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 during times of unrest, both past and present. The feature includes never-before-seen concert performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Ray Baretto, Abbey Lincoln & Max Roach and more. Summer of Soul premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award.

Summer of Soul is a documentary, but it is more of an experience.  The film takes this amazing archival footage of influential and talented black artists, and weaves them together to recreate this amazing music festival. The film has beautiful footage and--as you would expect from a documentary about a music festival--some great music.  It is put together with a care and reverence that is palatable on screen. And this recreation is interspersed with some insightful, reflective commentary from those that attended the show.  You hear from some of the artists and some of the attendees just how much this music and this festival meant to them and to the overall black movement in America.  And the film also showcases what was so special about Harlem at this time, and why it was needed to put this on.

The movie really is a testament to this special festival and of black culture in America.  And it was interesting to relive some of these historical lessons from a positive, empowering point of view.  The film doesn't hide from the racism and injustices of the time, but it does try to focus on a more positive message; one of black empowerment and of celebration.  However, as much as I enjoyed the film, it really did feel like a recreation of the music festival.  It could have used a little more build up and maybe a little more retrospective of what happened after the festival.  But that being said, the film is already a decent length and the focus is put on the festival and the cultural significance it had.  

Summer of Soul revives a powerful and empowering cultural moment with great music, beautiful footage, and insightful commentary.

Watch it.

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Summer of Soul is in theaters and on Hulu on July 2, 2021.  For showtimes, click here.

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