When you hear about a groundbreaking music festival and celebration in the summer of 1969, it’s easy for your mind to jump to Woodstock. While that was a legendary event, it wasn’t the only festival that summer, or even the only one in the state of New York. That summer of 1969 was a big one for America. Woodstock took place in upstate New York, the United States landed a man on the moon and a little closer to the Big Apple itself, in Harlem, the people celebrated a summer filled with musical performances and a celebration of culture.
The 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival was a six-week event that served as a celebration. There were incredible musical performances, but it wasn’t merely a concert. It was a celebration of Black culture and music, encouraging pride and unity. It was a beautiful event that was captured on film, but then that film was put away, lost to history for 50 years.
The new documentary, Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), tells the story of the festival and the summer that changed the lives of so many. The film, directed by Questlove, is a love story to the festival, the artists who performed and the people who, more than 50 years later, remain moved and deeply impacted by the events that took place from June through August that summer.
The film is a beautiful time capsule, capturing the powerful performances and using interviews that help to provide context and the rich stories behind the performers and performances themselves. It’s not just the story of the festival, but of the turbulent cultural times in which it was planted, and the events that were shaping the area of Harlem, the city of New York and the country as a whole.
I was deeply moved and inspired by the performances and the interviews. The rich emotion and the beautiful stories help provide context for this event that has, for the most part, been lost to history. Questlove lays the story out beautifully and lovingly, sharing the moving images and stories from the summer in a way that’s part celebration and part exploration of the long-lasting impact of the events in Harlem those six weeks.
The best documentaries entertain, inform and broaden your world, and that’s certainly true of Summer of Soul. It is a celebration of those who took part and a story with rich themes that feel even more timely given the events in our country the past two years.
The documentary has been a favorite of critics and audiences since it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival this winter, and I believe it will be a strong contender in this year’s Academy Awards competition. It finally got a wide theatrical release on Friday, July 2, dropping on Hulu the same day. Make time to share in this musical celebration this summer.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.