One of the biggest sensations to emerge out of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival was the documentary feature debut of music virtuoso Questlove, “Summer of Soul.” This joyous chronicle of the Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969 — known as “the Black Woodstock” — won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award in the festival’s Documentary section. It was quickly scooped up by Searchlight Pictures, which will release the film in theaters and simultaneously on Hulu on July 2. As Questlove served as the music producer for the 93rd Academy Awards this year, it was fitting the studio dropped the first trailer during the ceremony. Check it out below.
The debut from Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, who has been the drummer of hip-hop band The Roots for over three decades, serves up a different slice of music history in the pivotal year of 1969. During the same summer as Woodstock, a different music festival took place 100 miles away. More than 300,000 people attended the summer concert series known as the Harlem Cultural Festival. It was filmed, but after that summer, the footage sat in a basement for 50 years. It has never been seen — until now.
The film features performances by B.B. King, Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson and Mavis Staples, Hugh Masekela, Mongo Santamaria, Nina Simone, and Sly & the Family Stone, among many others.
“Summer of Soul” has glowing reviews, including from IndieWire’s Tambay Obenson, who applauded the film in his grade A- review. “Seething through the entire documentary, against the backdrop of a racially turbulent 1960s, is an insistence on a new kind of racial pride and unity across the diaspora, which infuses ‘Summer’ with an honesty and realism,” he wrote. “It’s explained that attendees distrusted the NYPD to the point of hiring the Black Panthers to safeguard the festival, anticipating Black Lives Matter events decades down the line. Questlove and editor Joshua L. Pearson lace together footage of stage performances with history lessons (Motown, gospel music, the evolution of Black style, the concept of a common struggle among Black people worldwide), tying it all together with endearing recollections of the single day in 1969 by those who were there. The result fans the flames of Black consciousness.”