Synopsis: In 1969, during the same summer as Woodstock, a different music festival took place 100 miles away. More than 300,000 people attended the summer concert series known as the Harlem Cultural Festival. It was filmed, but after that summer, the footage sat in a basement for 50 years. It has never been seen. Until now.
Artist, DJ, storyteller, and now award-winning director, Quest Love, won audiences over with his debut film, Summer of Love. The documentary features a slew of artists, attendees, historians, and celebs as they discuss the long-forgotten Harlem Cultural Festival. The Roots drummer brought together a beautiful collage of music, film, and history.
Quest Love’s film starts off with a very emotional reaction by attendee Musa Jackson and cuts for a brief moment before the film starts again. This moment resembles how we all feel when the past is revisited during a time of joy. Much like my first Bulls game when I got to see Michael Jordan.
The tone of the film mimics the musical archive of Quest. Every beat and note is well composed to fit each moment of the documentary. It’s like Quest Love is doing a DJ set and he is just feeding us the moment like he does while performing in front of a crowd. Love mentioned he approached the film as if it was a DJ set during the Q&A after the film. I really felt every single beat and not just the songs performed by each artist but by each scene. There are a few times the film touched me emotionally. Stevie Wonder’s drum solo was jaw-dropping. Nina Simone’s performance embodied Black Girl Magic. When Mahalia Jackson performed “Precious Lord” with Mavis Staples… whew. It was one of the only times the two had ever sung together on stage. I was honored to see Mavis Staple perform in 2016 at the Stephen Colbert Show, so it was cool seeing her perform in her prime in this film.
The historical ties throughout Summer of Love let the audience know how special this moment in time was, to have a Black orchestrated music festival with top chart-topping performers. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X weighed heavily on the Black community, so it was good to see people have an escape for this moment in time.
Not only did we see the producer and host Tony Lawrence put together magical series of concerts but I learned how the almost forgotten festival had so many invested. Take for instance the Black Panther party providing security for the event, it was intriguing to see how people came together to make this come together.
I found myself dancing, singing (or at least trying to), and almost crying at some moments (my eyes were sweating) because of some of the experiences Black people had back then, we are having now. The performance by Sly and the Family Stone was great and it was dope to learn that they had performed the set from Woodstock, which was happening not too far from the festival. It was funny seeing the crowd’s reaction to the group showing up. Sly and the Family Stone show up late or not at all at times for performances.
I really truly loved learning the festival included not only the stable Black artist we know of but also Hispanic artists like Ray Barretto. Seeing how the festival included other diasporic cultures that were oppressed really showed the festival’s intention – to bring people of color together for a great time and good music. This is the same reaction I have while watching the award-winning documentary Mr. Soul that Quest Love was featured in.
Quest Love did an excellent job capturing the reaction of the interviewees during Summer of Love. It really made the film tug emotionally at my heartstrings. I could see how much this festival meant to each person and how the event impacted their life. Honestly, it made me jealous because to be a part of a moment like that had to be extraordinary.
I was not surprised to see the film take home multiple awards including the Audience Award: U.S. Documentary and U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary. I even made mention of its greatness on social media before I watched the other films on my list. The documentary truly shows much of Black History is still out there and how awesome our people are. So yes, the “Summer of Soul” will be televised and you need to make sure to watch it! I’ll definitely re-watch this film with my family when it is available to the public and will continue to listen to my 70’s playlist the film inspired.