MIFF Centrepiece Gala - Summer of Soul (...or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Director Questlove (as Ahmir-Khalib Thompson) / 2021 / USA

The “Black Woodstock” of 1969, which was filmed but never seen, finally makes it to the big screen in this Sundance US Documentary Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award winner.

A hundred miles south of Woodstock, some of the biggest names in blues, gospel and soul – including Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, BB King and Mahalia Jackson – prepare to take the stage. It’s 1969, the year of the Manson murders, the moon landing and the third Harlem Cultural Festival, which brought almost 300,000 people to Upper Manhattan’s Morrison Park. The concert series, held over a series of weekends, was filmed by Hal Tulchin, yet his footage of this history-making event remained locked in a basement for 50 years … until now.

The feature documentary debut of The Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson is a long-overdue corrective for this erased watershed moment. Piecing together interviews and archival footage – including spine-tingling performances from Simone, Wonder, King, Jackson, Mavis Staples, Gladys Knight and more – this stunning, exuberant time capsule chronicles, with comprehensive precision, a pioneering celebration held by and for the African American community. With attention also paid to the festival’s place at the intersection of the waning civil rights movement and burgeoning Black Power movement, Summer of Soul revels in the rich rebellion of Black resistance through song.

“This sizzling concert film is a resurrected piece of power-to-the-people art, featuring dizzyingly rich footage … It reclaims a forgotten piece of Black culture with aching timeliness.” – Harper’s Bazaar

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