Sundance Film Festival: ‘Summer Of Soul (… Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)’ Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Summer of Soul is Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson’s directorial debut and it was fantastic! The 1960s was a decade filled with pain, sorrow and change, necessary to move America forward. In 1969, during the same summer as Woodstock (which was documented in every history book) a different music festival took place miles away. The summer concert series was known as the Harlem Cultural Festival and 300,000 people attended. Luckily, it was filmed BUT it was buried in a basement for over 50 years and now, thanks to Thompson, it’s out for the world to see.

Music has always been important. It has always been a medium where anyone can express their emotions, whether they sing or play an instrument, that power is flowing through you. More importantly, music can influence people and reflect society, depending on what you want to say through a song. Words are powerful and that’s why poetry is also an important form of expression. The reason why this documentary is special, is because a musician was behind the camera and took the time to add so much context, by using archive footage.

The editing is probably the most important aspect of this documentary. The placement of iconic Black artists and how they influenced the Black community, while adding archive footage of the injustice surrounding that festival, worked extremely well. Everything was happening at once, the entire decade was littered with violence, oppression and racial injustice only for this music festival to become the pillar of unity and self expression for the Black community. It examines the influence of these artists and how they confidently expressed who they were.

Summer of Soul celebrates the Black experience, while also addressing the discrimination and hardships they faced. Ahmir Thompson has music in his blood and there are such emotional moments, where he connects with artists and others who attended the festival. It is deeply personal and that is because music has the power to be whatever you want it to be. It can take any form and it can add fuel to any situation. The spoken word is powerful but sometimes, words cannot be expressed, and that is why there are so many instrumental pieces that run free. This was a beautiful directorial debut and THIS will be documented as part of film history.

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