Summer of Soul – The Movie Reviews

Summer of Soul is a music documentary signed by Amir Thompson and which deals with musical events related to black music and culture in New York in 1969, which bear the common name Harlem Cultural Festival. The film debuted at the Sundance Festival, where it won a grand jury award and an audience award, and after a short cinema distribution, it arrived on the servers of the streaming platform Hulu a week ago.

In this documentary project, we have the opportunity to see hitherto unseen and restored recordings of the festival, which lasted six weeks and which many call Black Woodstock. Despite high attendance and an impressive list of music performers, including Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, BB King and Gladys Knight, this event was undeservedly in the corner of music history. In a series of interviews, the author looks back at the impact that this festival had on the participants, visitors, but also at the growing struggle for human rights.

During the summer of 1969, the Woodstock Music Festival took place, which many consider one of the greatest events in the history of popular music, and many do not know that a few hundred kilometers away African-Americans had their own festival, very important in their history. It was partially overshadowed by Woodstock, the world carefully followed the landing of Apollo on the Moon, but I simply cannot believe that such an event practically became a hole in the collective memory.

The curiosity is that this festival was broadcast by local television, but that the recordings remained almost intact in the basement for almost fifty years. The recordings were broadcast on television during the festival, but after that it seems as if no one either knew or was not interested in getting involved in so many recordings. Even people who were performers at the festival look at these recordings with disbelief and awe – they know it happened, but when the evidence of such a cultural-historical and personal event disappears without a trace, one begins to doubt one’s memories.

First of all, this documentary vividly presents how important history is for spiritual well-being and testifies to the healing power of music during social unrest. The author introduces us to important musicians who perform not only with the usual enthusiasm, but also with the additional weight of accepting the significance of the event in which they participate. Thompson allows certain significant events of the festival to take place continuously and without comment, while certain conversations go over the songs that are heard in the background. He also used a very good technique when observing the observer of these recordings and their sincere reactions.

Summer of Soul is a film full of collective joy for several reasons. First of all, people were happy because of the opportunity to see popular performers at the gathering, then because of the atmosphere of mass gathering, but also because they were aware that they were attending something bigger than themselves. The film is an act of memory, analysis and, above all, love for time, culture and music, but it also explores the importance of accepting truth and history in order to move forward. At a time when music events have been canceled due to a pandemic, it reminds us that the joy of the music community is one of the greater human experiences.

This documentary is especially interesting to me because I often have soul and funk in my playlist, and also because I love music history. During the interviews the musicians get information about their careers up to that point, how their style fits in or differs from other performers of the time and how the music and success of each of them fits into the wider range of music and culture. For example, for Stevie Wonder, this festival was a turning point to become more politically active. Precisely because of that, in the second part, the documentary offers the essential context of the events in Harlem in a time full of turmoil, from personal to political.

Summer of Soul is an excellent documentary project and a kind of historical document full of ideas and life that very skilfully connects turbulent history, cultural evolution / revolution and great music.

my final grade: 10/10


Source: The Filmske Recenzije by filmskerecenzije.com.

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