Sundance 2021 Review: Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Written by Taylor Baker


Pictured Above: Questlove shooting on location.

SYNOPSIS: Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) is the untold story of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, featuring never-before-seen performances from Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & The Family Stone and scores of others. The unreleased footage that was
shot that summer sat in a basement for over 50 years, keeping this incredible event in America’s history lost – until now. Summer Of Soul is a joyous musical celebration and the rediscovery of a nearly erased historical event that celebrated Black culture, pride and unity.

REVIEW: While it is a mouthful Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) is the first of what I hope will be many Questlove jawns. The assemblage and footage of this summer day from 1969 encompassing the Harlem Summer Festival is deft if not masterful. The content itself touches on the incomparable. This is live music filled with love. Or love music performed live.
Your choice.

Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Questlove in which he describes why the film was given it’s title and what the trouble is with it’s perceived lateral relationship to Woodstock.

“That footage was definitely the butterfly wing, if you will, that told me it’s
probably in the best interest of this project for us not to call this ‘Black
Woodstock.’ I wanted to call this Black Woodstock, initially, only because so
many culturally Black creations get appropriated, and claimed, and lost to
revisionist history. For the Hal Tulchin quote: It was one of the very last things
that we found. Hearing him describe how heartbreaking it was that this was
unsellable, it was then I felt like we should find a proper title that did it justice.
Not just forever connect it to something that came after it, but received more
credit than it”

Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson

At one point early on there’s a comment made that they threw the Harlem Cultural Festival for free to keep the residents of Harlem from setting fires that summer. I couldn’t help but frame that comment against the content of the film. The dozens of times that the musicians sweating furiously in suit jackets or long dresses and tights in the sweltering heat lit everybody up with their music. It’s clear that this festival was a metaphorical fire, and I really like the quick unobtrusive way Questlove alights that thought into the viewer, or at least this viewer.

Picture Above: Mavis Staples and Mahalia Jackson co-performing “Hear my cry, hear my call / Hold my hand lest I fall”

If you, like me seek a transcendental moment in musical documentaries. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I found two such moments in the picture myself. The first of which is when Mavis Staples and Mahalia Jackson co-perform “Hear my cry, hear my call / Hold my hand lest I fall”. When Mahalia is standing center stage her mouth agape roaring beautiful notes, the camera framed squarely on her face. Something stirring occurs, a beauty that traverses the image conveyed by sound but can’t be properly explained, only experienced. The second moment comes when Stevie Wonder amidst performing Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day plays a stirring keyboard solo that none of my words could do justice.

For anyone who doesn’t offhandedly know who Gladys Knight, Babatunde Olatunji, or Sly & The Family Stone. This documentary might feel as if one is being taken lovingly by the hand through Questlove’s personal and professional inspirations and like going through a friends older siblings CD’s as a kid, a musical awakening. Clear voiced and sure of itself, Questlove’s Directorial Debut has all the makings of a film that’s distribution rights purchase might come with a first look deal. With an eye for presentation like this it’s unlikely this is the last we’ll see of him.

Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) premiered at Sundance 2021 and has at least one second run screening left on 1/29/21. However, it’s quite likely to win some festival awards, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it included on the Sundance 2021 Festivals Wednesday Award Screenings. At the time of this publishing it does not have a distribution deal or release date.


Written by Michael Clawson


Shortly after moving to Los Angeles in hopes of a fresh start with only her cute cat Giles for companionship (don’t get too attached, Giles doesn’t last long), Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom), a soft-spoken twenty-something, is lucky enough to quickly land a one bedroom at an apartment complex where it appears she’ll enjoy the company of highly sociable neighbors. A lively and welcoming community is just what Sarah needs since not only is she new in town, she’s also bitterly estranged from her father after her mother’s recent passing, and we gather that mom and dad were her only close family. Loneliness, however, is better than what Sarah’s tightly knit neighbors ultimately have in store for her. Pain and suffering turns out to be a prerequisite for becoming a part of their cult-like community, and leaving isn’t any easier.

Bloom’s lackluster lead performance is one reason why this mediocre thriller doesn’t amount to as much as it should. Sarah is meant to be somewhat meek—that’s partly why her property manager identifies her as a suitable tenant—but Bloom overplays it, and doesn’t bring enough energy to the role. The rest of the cast also disappoints; when the sinister side of everyone around is Sarah is eventually unveiled, it’s not just unconvincing, it’s eyerolling. Writer/director David Marmor (this is his debut feature) does have good instincts for pacing. His freshest move is placing the film’s major revelation towards the middle of the movie, and focusing on Sarah’s response to her disturbing, imprisoning situation in the back half. Far less impressive is Marmor’s visual creativity. The film is fairly engaging, but there’s nothing interesting to look at.

1BR Trailer

1BR is currently available on Netflix

Episode 76: Best of 2020 So Far

“When I finish a film, I feel like I have overcome a certain hurdle. It’s really good for me as a human being, and I hope that for some people, my films will do the same thing.”

Hong Sang-soo

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on the Podcast we discuss our 10 favorite films of 2020 so far, as well as hand out show awards for each of our Wounded Soldiers of the year, The Squanderies, Top Ensembles, Top Doc, Top 3 OST’s, Favorite Actor and Actress(Lead and Supporting), Top 3 Directorial Debuts, 3 Favorite Classic Discovery, and our Top Technically Beautiful Film.

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