Questlove discusses Summer of Soul

Director Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson discusses Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

October 20, 2021 Special Projects Documentary Series Screenings

The incredible story of the Harlem Cultural Festival is revealed in Director Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s documentary, Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised).

Thompson’s film is part music film, part historical record created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion: The Harlem Cultural Festival that took place over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969, just one hundred miles south of Woodstock. Utilizing largely forgotten footage from the event, the film shines a light on the importance of history to our spiritual well-being and stands as a testament to the healing power of music during times of unrest, both past and present. The feature includes concert performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, The 5th Dimension and more.

Summer of Soul premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, where it won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award.

Following the DGA Eastern Region Special Projects Documentary Series screening in New York on October 12, Thompson spoke with Director Amir Bar-Lev (Long Strange Trip) about the making of Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised). Thompson also discussed the film in a conversation moderated by Special Projects Documentary Series Subcommittee Chair Ondi Timoner following the DGA screening in Los Angeles on October 20.

During the Los Angeles conversation, Thompson recalled how drawing parallels between the two eras made it possible to make the film set in 1969 more engaging for current audiences. “I wanted to figure out a way to connect with Gen Z and connect with millennials in a way that wasn't pandering like, ‘OK, the guy playing bass with Sly & the Family Stone, that's Drake’s cousin so maybe I can get Drake in the movie to talk about his uncle Larry,’ or something like that. Then towards 2019 and especially March of 2020, it wasn't lost on us that —  politically, socially, scientifically, all those things — we were repeating history. The events that occurred that brought this concert in the first place were happening in real time then. So, it wasn't going to be a song or an artist, it was going to be the connection of things happening in real time now that was going to connect Gen Z and millennials. That's why we were more urgent with showing the comparisons.”

Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) is Thompson’s filmmaking debut. He joined the DGA in 2019.

You can listen to Thompson's Q&A by clicking the podcast episode embedded below. You can find more DGA podcast episodes here.


Q&A photos by Marcie Revens (NY) & Elisa Haber (LA) — Print Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

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