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  • Writer's pictureGareth Bradwick

Summer of Soul (...or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) ★★★★★

Ahmir-Khalib Thompson (Questlove)

Featuring Stevie Wonder, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jesse Jackson, Chris Rock, Nina Simone

Premiering at The Sundance Festival 2021, Summer of Soul has now graced the silver screens here in the UK and now on Disney+. It is a truly remarkable documentary that will take you on various journeys through Harlem in the late 60’s: music, politics, Black pride and unity.

While the well documented Woodstock Festival was taking place, over in New York the Harlem Culture Festival staged huge names such as Stevie Wonder, Sly & the Family Stone and Nina Simone; it was also attended by over 300,000 people. Although filmed and documented at the time, no one was interested in purchasing or showing the film, so it has remained hidden until today.

There are many remarkable aspects to this film. Even without the context we are provided with, the music and talent on show is incredible (what any of us wouldn’t give to attend this festival). But it’s the context that is laced throughout that lifts the performances from incredible to profound. The stories are cleverly built upon so by the time the credits roll the significance of this festival will not be forgotten in a hurry.

The first story that starts to tackle the legacy of Harlem Culture Festival is the Fifth Dimension performance. To have two members of the band reflect on the film is moving in itself, but to see how much it meant to them to be heard by their own community is why releasing this footage is so important. From there the stories and reflections come thick and fast from performers and attendees.

Towards the end of the film, the headliners grace the stage for the powerful final act. One artist who encapsulates this movie’s themes and the passion in which it was made is Nina Simone. As she floats on stage with her grace and power, you know you’re going to be in for something special. Honestly, it’s mesmerising.

By coincidence, the moon landing happened while The Harlem Cuture Festival was in full swing. In the shadow of Jeff Bezos and co. still obsessing over space, the parallels to today could not be clearer. We still have much better things to be focusing on than the white man’s space race and to be wrapped in the joy of the film is infinitely more joyful than watching Richard Branson’s weightless livestream.

Summer of Soul (...or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised) available now on Disney+

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