Film review: Summer Of Soul

Film clip
Summer of Soul ©Disney

The original title of this stirring documentary called Summer of Soul could have been Black Woodstock. Although the Harlem Cultural Festival took place in the same summer as the legendary Woodstock, the differences could not be greater. While at Woodstock almost only white artists performed in front of an equally white audience, in 1969 only black musicians (including Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson, Sly & the Family Stone and B. B. King , among others) performed for six weeks in a park in Harlem.

The Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969, featured in the documentary SUMMER OF SOUL

The Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969, featured in the documentary SUMMER OF SOUL. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

Over 300,000 people came to the festival, which was free for all visitors. It was the same summer as the moon landing, but also a pivotal year for Black America. The old guard of the civil rights movement found themselves shoulder to shoulder with the new Black Power movement. Together they celebrated the versatility of black music, from classic R&B to gospel and Motown to newfangled pop and psychedelic soul and jazz. And while one festival immediately found a permanent place in music history, the other quickly fell into oblivion.

The recordings of this Summer of Soul, which were recorded at the time for a possible TV broadcast, lay unnoticed for decades – until Questlove (known for the band The Roots) brought the material back into the light. His multi-award-winning debut (including an Oscar for Best Documentary 2022) is a gripping documentary about a legendary event that peacefully and confidently celebrated African-American (music) history, culture and fashion in a society divided by racism.

“An absolute joy!”  ★★★★★  – The Guardian

“The documentary of the decade.” – London Evening Standard

My personal rating:  ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ five stars

The Harlem Culture Festival celebrated Black history, culture, fashion and music for six weeks in the summer of 1969—and was forgotten until footage that had been stored for 50 years in a basement was brought to light. Hard to believe that the 1969 Harlem Festival has been forgotten because of Woodstock. Amir Thompson’s music documentary is more than merely an outstanding concert film. It is an important musical and cultural legacy, not only for the Black community, but also for the music industry and pop culture. Summer of Soul is full of epic and unique moments that give you goosebumps. For example, when the gospel queen Mahalia Jackson sings a breathtaking duet with the young Mavis Staples at the microphone. Or when Nina Simone swears the audience in with the following lines by Dahveed Nelson, a founding member of The Last Poets (one of the forefathers of hip hop): “Are you ready to listen to all the beautiful Black voices, the beautiful Black feelings, the beautiful Black waves moving in beautiful air? Are you ready Black people? Are you ready?”

The most impressive of all questions, which the film asks as a side question is: How do you colour a sound? I would say there can only be one answer to that. No one can assign music to colour. Music knows no skin colour and no borders. Music is pure emotion. Many thanks dear Questlove for Summer of Soul!

Country: US                                                                                                                                         US release date: 2021                                                                                                                           Directed by: Ahmir “Questlove“ Thompson                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Genre: Documentary                                                                                                                                        Running time: 118 mins.                                                                                                            Language: English/OV (Original version without subtitles)                                                                                                                       

Ticket prices: €4.50* (*Friendship card holders) –€7/€6**(*Reduced admission for pupils, students, pensioners, people with a certificate of unemployment or with a severely disabled pass and groups of 5 people or more.) 

Concessions: Filmhaus café

Please note that, due to the restrictions resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, it is highly recommended to purchase tickets in advance, either online (via or during regular opening times (Mon–Fri 10am–6pm) at the ticket counter of the Kultur Information at the KunstKulturQuartier, Nuremberg.

This article is written in British English.

Hashtags: #filmhausnuernberg #BlackWoodstock #HarlemCulturalFestival #questlove #SummerOfSoul #SummerOfSoulMovie 

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