I really should watch more of the documentaries nominated at the Academy Awards. In general, the Academy do get at least that category correct, don’t they? If Summer of Soul is anything to go by, they got the winner absolutely right. Sadly, every year I tend to run out of time to watch all of the Best Documentary nominees and end up only watching the one that is tipped to win. Thank God the predictions were right, I guess?!
Made up of footage that has been hidden away for decades, Summer of Soul details the concert that ensued in New York City known as The Harlem Cultural Festival. The show ran during the same summer as Woodstock, yet the latter is globally known and remembered whereas the festival featured here – made up almost entirely of black and/or African American artists – was entirely brushed under the rug. 300,000 people were in attendance, yet once the concert ended, no one wanted to buy the footage and it was left in a basement for fifty years. That is, until now.
Since Nina Simone and Stevie Wonder are two of my favourite recording artists of all time, I’d just like to briefly thank Questlove for putting this together. First, he won the BAFTA, then the Oscar, and most recently, he won a Grammy for his efforts here. And he truly deserves all of the praise he’s receiving, because this film is absolutely fantastic.
Usually, I’m not the biggest fan of concert movies. In fact, ordinarily I’d be rather disinterested if someone told me to watch one. The brilliance here lies in the fact that Questlove takes footage of the concert itself and blends it effortlessly with all of the usual markers you’d expect from a documentary. Hearing all of the people who were there speak about it so passionately is wonderful, never mind the inclusion some of its legendary performers recall their experience.
The fact that this footage has been hidden away for so long is actually a travesty. But I’m so glad that now it has finally been released; it perfectly captures the spirit of the mood of black people at the time and what the festival meant to them. It didn’t hurt that the music was 10/10 from start to finish either. Special mention to Gladys Knight who sounded incredible.
As a documentary, Summer of Soul is really well arranged and put together. There’s a connectivity running through it that makes it really easy to watch, and it flows with a really satisfying sense of cohesion. It’s easily one of the more original documentaries I’ve seen as of late, so I can see why it’s getting so much love. As a directorial debut, this is phenomenal from Questlove.
Here’s how I summarised Summer of Soul in my notes before the Oscars ceremony:
Overall, this is a worthy winner of that Oscar. After finally watching it, I’d actually be surprised if it lost than if it didn’t.
Turns out, I was not alone in that assumption.
Summer of Soul (or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) is available to stream on Disney+ in the UK.
TQR Category Ratings:
Costume & Set Design: n/a
Overall Enjoyability Rating: ½