Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised) is eye opening from the very beginning. An off screen narrator asks a Black man if he remembers some footage being shown. As he watches the unseen film, his eyes glaze over with nostalgia and a hypnotic smile fills his face. The documentary seamlessly fades into Stevie Wonder performing at the Harlem Cultural Festival.
In his directorial debut, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, documents the events of the summer of 1969 in this Sundance Film Festival premiere. The nation had been rocked by a series of assassinations that included John F. Kennedy and Malcolm X. People feared the violence that was to come. Summer of Soul documents how one festival demonstrated the power of music.
The documentary is part concert film. Though the Harlem Cultural Fest was recorded, the footage has never been seen. The performances unearthed are a revelation. The cold open features an amazing drum solo from Stevie Wonder. There is also footage of B.B. King, Sly and the Family Stone, and Gladys Knight and the Pips among others.
The music of Summer of Soul may be timeless, but it still succeeds in transporting the audience to a different decade. This is partially due to the footage, but the many interviews will also enthrall the audience. They paint a picture of the era through what they are saying and how lovingly they talk of the concerts. They are more than just talking heads and tie the film together.
The documentary also discusses the culture of the time. It is an insightful look at Black fashion and music of the times. Summer of Soul also traces the changing tastes and trends and chronicles how different types of people came together. The documentary also shows how little has changed, unfortunately. There is footage of news station talking about the actions of “looters’ after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised) is a wonderful documentary that highlights an important part of Black history. The concert footage is great and the segment on the moon landing will make people rethink what is regarded as one of American’s greatest moments. The film also shows connections to our current times and is a must watch.
Continue to check out AIPT for our ongoing coverage of the Sundance Film Festival. Tickets and a full lineup can be found here.
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