The good documentaries can entertain, inspire, and educate and “Summer Of Soul”, a doc on the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, and the social environment around it, does a strong job in accomplishing all three.
Directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (yes, that Questlove you know from late night), we get an inside look at the story behind the construction of the festival, the mindset of the artists, and the events taking place around the world as the every portion of the community eventually found themselves taking part at this important event.
This presentation does so much right.
We never forget that this is about the music and we’re taken on a journey of Gospel, Blues, and of course, Motown, that just allows this project to jam during it’s whole running time, featuring legends like Gladys Knight and The Pips, Stevie Wonder, and Sly and the Family Stone, who are the stars of this doc along with many others. I was a stranger to a lot of this music here and when the show was done, I was a borderline fan. And the interviews of the artists watching the half century old event here will just melt your heart.
We also get a lot of historical background of 1969. The recent assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King are presented here. The moon landing. Woodstock, which took place upstate. It’s a great snapshot of time. It gets political. But we’re never told how to think.
It does suffer some common documentary flaws. It’s admiration of historic material does allow it to run long. And watching it in the theater subjects the presentation to frame fluttering with some shots coming in a little blurry and in different sizes.
But this is an important and inclusive documentation of the festival that will make you wish you were there, even if you were clueless when you sat down to watch the show like I was. And that makes it a successful documentary.
Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
Running Time: 1 Hour 57 Minutes