“Summer of Soul”: Black Woodstock finally stands out with a new documentary
It happened that same summer of 1969 with huge names from that time, but the footage stayed in a drawer. Yet.
The documentary is about two hours long.
The summer of 1969 was not only the inspiration for the famous music of Bryan Adams, but also a formative time in the United States of America and in the world. That summer, Neil Armstrong landed on the moon – and also the very first Woodstock that would prove to be a profound cultural landmark.
However, that same summer there was another event similar to the Woodstock Festival that has never been given so much prominence. We’re talking about the Harlem Cultural Festival, which took place for several weeks in the New York neighborhood just 100 miles from Woodstock and performed concerts by some of the greatest African American artists of all time.
Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, BB King, Sly & the Family Stone, Hugh Masekela, Roy Ayers, Mahalia Jackson, Gladys Knight & the Pips or The 5th Dimension, u this festival in Harlem, which lasted between June and August.
It was mainly two men who organized the event, Tony Lawrence (who hired the artists) and Hal Tulchin (who filmed the concerts). However, unlike Woodstock – which had an Oscar-winning documentary that made the festival more iconic – the Harlem Cultural Festival footage was only used for a single show on a New York television network. After that, they were forever in the drawer. Until 2017.
That year two film producers, Robert Fyvolent and David Dinerstein, gave the musician and professor Questlove (of The Roots) the 40-hour collection of footage from the Harlem Cultural Festival. Although Questlove was an African American musician who specialized in black music, he had never heard of this event.
“The festival was professionally recorded, but no producer or TV broadcaster was interested in the images and their worldwide distribution. So what happened was that this film was in the drawer for 50 years “, Questlove explained in an interview with” BBC “.
Over the years, several filmmakers asked Hal Tulchin to use the footage, but it never got anywhere. At least until these two producers backed this project – and shortly before his death, in 2017 to be precise, received Tulchin’s approval. Then they decided to hand over the footage to Questlove, who had never made a movie before.
“I think it took me about five months to live with the recordings. Five months with just these monitors in my whole house, in every room, on a 24-hour loop. I only saw that. And I wrote down everything that made me shiver. And in the end I curated pictures as if it were a concert or a DJ set. “
The result is “Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)”, an almost two-hour documentary that premiered earlier this year at the renowned Sundance Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Prize. This Friday, July 30th, it arrives on the Disney + streaming platform – and on August 21st, it will be the opening film of this year’s edition of the IndieLisboa festival.
Questlove says the film is not only important to celebrate African American music, it also portrays a time of change. “Until then, we were ashamed to be called Africans,” he told the BBC.
“If you really wanted to offend someone in the black community, you would call them ‘African’ and then prepare for a fight. But so deep was the self-loathing that has been instilled in us for centuries. And in 1969 there is a paradigm shift. There is a new generation with a new mindset, and it’s not just Martin Luther King’s generation. It’s the Black Panther generation, and they take it all, they call themselves black. The seeds of black celebration began in 1969 with our expression, our style, our fashion, our music, our creativity. “
After this project, Questlove says, he realized that there were other events that were equally important to the African American community and that have also been forgotten in history.
“Just last week I found out five or six other events almost like these that the world has never heard of. One American university in particular told me they had 20 hours of footage … So I hope this film can be a smoke signal. That could be my new goal and I didn’t even know it. “
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