It seems like the opening documentary at Sundance is always meant to bring joy and inspiration. Last year it was Crip Camp, and this year it’s Harlem Cultural Festival’s directorial debut, Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could not Be Televised). The film is made up of a lot of concert footage that’s been sitting somewhere for over 50 years, and that alone makes its release a celebration.
Showing the concerts that made up the Harlem Cultural Festival, which happened Sundays at 3pm from June 29th to August 24th, 1969, Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could not Be Televised) takes viewers through performances, and also shows some of those performers watching footage for the first time in 50 years and recalling those moments. It also places these performances in context of what was happening in the Black communities and in culture and politics of the country. This is a country which had lost both Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, in which Black and Brown folks had suffered violence at the hands of the police, where Black and Brown men were disproportionately represented at the front lines in Vietnam, and members of the Black Panthers were being held and tried right down the street. As one attendee said, “we needed something to reach out and touch us”.
Interviews with Jessie Jackson, Al Sharpton, and a number of Black and Brown journalists and activists speak to the times. In this film, we are seeing great historical performances, but also hearing why they are important, and why this kind of festival was so essential for those in attendance.
For the complete review go to AWFJ.org HERE.