SUMMER OF SOUL (...OR, WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED) -- A Decent Musical Doc With Amazing Footage
Review by Camden Ferrell
The summer of 1969 has become something of legend. Most associate it with the iconic festival that was Woodstock. However, fewer know of another festival that happened about 100 miles away in that same summer. The directorial debut of famous musician Questlove, Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) explores the event that was known to some as Black Woodstock. It premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize. This is a documentary that features some really interesting archival footage even if it isn’t fully comprehensive.
The Harlem Cultural Festival was a series of concerts that celebrated African American culture while also serving as a platform for their politics. This documentary unearths previously unseen footage and intercuts it with retrospective interviews about the festival and its influence on the community. It’s an interesting event that hasn’t been explored nearly enough, and it’s an engaging and enjoyable basis for this film.
It is clear that Questlove has a lot of personal investment in the film, and it feels like a labor of love. However, there are some pacing inconsistencies throughout that aren’t distracting but are somewhat noticeable. Certain sections have great energy and momentum, and then there are other moments that don’t flow nearly as well for the film’s sake. Despite its flaws, it shows that he has a lot of talent as a director and his experienced musical perspective is evident in the way he presents the events in the film.
The best part of this film is easily the archival footage which is quite ethereal and captivating. It features some truly amazing performances from legends like B.B. King, Nina Simone, and Sly and the Family Stone. It’s no surprise that these performances are great, but it to see them in that setting surrounded by their people and their culture makes for an unforgettable performance from them.
For the most part, the interviews are entertaining and add some insight and perspective into the event. There are some interviewees that aren’t the most ideal for this documentary, but the movie does a great job of really examining the implications of this event. It highlights the significance of this event in the context of late 1960’s U.S. and the turmoil of the time. While it doesn’t dive too deep into the politics, it does give the viewer a working understanding of the political climate for Black Americans and how this festival played a part in history.
It has its flaws, and it’s not as polished as it could have been, but Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) features some phenomenal footage and pairs it with a history lesson that is entertaining more than anything. It’s a fun musical documentary that will be of interest to those invested in history and the lesser-known events of Black Woodstock.
Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) is in theaters June 25 and on Hulu July 2.