The hippest party of the year arrives this weekend, when Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s first documentary, “Summer of Soul (…or When Revolution Couldn’t Be Televised)” hits theaters and on Hulu Friday. This concert documentary will have you dancing from start to finish, even if it’s from the comfort of your living room.
In the summer of 1969, Woodstock changed the culture and Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. But something just as big was happening in Harlem, with the Harlem Cultural Festival concert series celebrating black music, art and culture over six Sundays at Mount Morris Park. Featuring performances by BB King, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and the Pips, David Ruffin, Mahalia Jackson, Sly and the Family Stone, Hugh Masekela and Nina Simone, among others, the concerts were filmed for a potential TV special. When no one was interested, the tapes sat forgotten in a basement for 50 years.
Thompson — known by his nickname Questlove, a member of The Roots and Jimmy Fallon’s house band, as well as a DJ, producer, storyteller and more — saved the footage from his glorious directorial debut, “Summer of Soul.” It contextualizes the moment of the Harlem Cultural Festival, a moment of Black pride and Black power, a cautious euphoria after the violence and bloodshed of 1968, which saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. The summer of 68 was bloody, but the summer of 69 was marked by a sea change.
You won’t want “Summer of Soul” to end, but when it does, here are some streaming documentaries that will help fill the void.
The 2018 documentary “Amazing Grace” is another rare find of lost footage. In 1972 director Sydney Pollack filmed Aretha Franklin’s performance from her live album recorded at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. In 2007, Alan Elliott purchased the footage; he was finally able to release the film 11 years later. “Amazing Grace” is streaming on Hulu and Kanopy.