Do you ever just watch a documentary and by the time the credits start to roll you are left muttering to yourself, “how did I not know about this sooner?” That rarely happens to me yet Summer of Soul truly took me back and left me stunned. The whole story of the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969 and how it was totally forgotten, by basically everyone, is truly baffling. Here is why Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) is a must watch and should be seen on the biggest screen possible.
Like most, I had no clue what this documentary was about. It is
a part music film, part historical record, created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion. Over the course of six weeks in the summer of ’69, just one hundred miles south of Woodstock, The Harlem Cultural Festival was filmed in Mount Morris Park (now known as Marcus Garvey Park). The footage was never seen, kept in a basement, and largely forgotten until now. Summer of Soul shines a light on the importance of history to our spiritual well-being and stands as a testament to the healing power of music during times of unrest.
After winning the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, Questlove’s documentary on the Harlem Cultural Festival received praise from every direction. And, with the film finally reaching UK cinemas and Disney Plus via Star this month, you will not want to miss this one. From its opening scene, Summer of Soul grabs you by the throat and takes you on an unforgettable journey through events that have been forgotten by the public.
It perfectly immerses the viewer into this festival and does it in such an electrifying way. It shows the footage from 1969 while seeing many people reflect on the Harlem Festival and how the footage holds up more than fifty years later. All the recorded performances look brilliant, even by today’s standards. Each frame is filled with colour and looks very similar to the sort of concerts we have seen broadcast on television in the present day. It is all captured in a way that feels fresh, vibrant and filled with colour.
However, my only gripe with Summer of Soul is that it becomes quite repetitive during its second half. Each performance and the way they explain it’s cultural impact is structured in a specific way that by the time you reach the final quarter of the film, feels very ‘samey’ and that makes you feel its nearly two hour length quite a bit during the final half an hour.
Overall, Summer of Soul is a truly electrifying experience that left me stunned by the end. It may become a little bit repetitive towards the end but that doesn’t take away the fact that this truly is a fascinating event that has been forgotten by the public. If this is playing in a cinema near you, this is one that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
Searchlight Pictures presents Summer of Soul in select cinemas from July 16th and streaming on Disney+ from July 30th.
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