Featuring footage that includes many major black musicians around in 1969, as well as interviews and commentary from current day talking heads.
Directed By: Questlove
Where I Watched it: Hulu
English Audio Description Available? Yes
The Plot: Questlove revisits the Harlem Music Festival from the summer of 1969 that was such a celebration of black artists and black pride, and deeply personal.
What Works: So there are different schools of thought on what I’m about to say here. The latter being that when a documentarian is so deeply connected to their own subject material they can run the risk of losing objectivity, and instead choose to pursue pushing a narrative that aligns firmly with beliefs that largely led to them making the film in the first place. The second school of thought, where I’m leaning, is that sometimes a love letter is exactly what you need.
I think Questlove’s deep personal affection and relationship to the festival, and how it has affected him as an artist, shows in the way that it needs to as this film centers around highlighting the relevance and historical significance of this specific festival, which while well known, may not be as well known as it should be.
What Questlove does well is presenting the time period, reminding the audience what it was like to be black in 1969, and black in Harlem in 1969. It’s as much a celebration of music as it is a journey of self discovery coming out of a festival that celebrated black pride.
There are some interesting accounts from the current day talking heads that actually contribute a lot to fully fleshing out the film as a documentary and not just a concert film.
Don’t get me wrong, the music featured in here is historic and epic and could have sustained a movie even if all Questlove did was just reassemble the concert footage for an audience. But the personal stories, and reminding the audience how significant and personal this was to so many people is what makes Summer Of Soul a truly remarkable experience.
What Doesn’t Work: I’m not sure there’s something to really comment on here. I have to admit that I typically avoid concert based documentaries, and I really couldn’t even get into Peter Jackson’s epic Beatles three parter on Disney Plus. But I kept hearing how this was something special, and it really is. So, this praise is coming from someone who typically does not like this type of documentary, went in expecting to zone out and not enjoy myself, and came out with the complete other reaction.
So, what can I say negatively about a film that I walked in with a preconceived notion would not work, only to find out it does? There’s nothing. This is my new favorite documentary of 2021 (unseating LFG).
The Blind Perspective: This film has audio description, which is nice in some parts but is largely not really needed. There’s a lot of talking and music, creating a strong audio presentation on its own. Personally, I barely noticed it. Which is rare.
Final Thoughts: This labor of love from Questlove is my favorite documentary of 2021 (although, not of all time) and my bet to win Best Documentary at this years Oscars.
Final Grade: A