‘Summer of Soul’ wins big at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival Awards

The documentary explores the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, known as 'the Black Woodstock'

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Questlove’s directorial debut, Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), won big at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival this week.

The documentary earned the U.S. Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award in the U.S. Documentary category.

Summer of Soul explores the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, known as “the Black Woodstock,” attended by over 300,000 people celebrating African American music and culture, and promoting Black pride and unity. According to the press release, footage from the festival sat in a basement, unseen for over 50 years, keeping this incredible event in America’s history lost – until Questlove of The Roots came along to dust it off and serve it to the masses. 

Read More: Questlove revitalizes vital portion of Black archive with ‘Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)’

“It’s more than a concert film,” Questlove (born Ahmir-Khalib Thompson) said while introducing the documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, theGRIO reported. 

The doc includes performances from Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, the Staple Singers, B.B. King, and other legendary soul artists.

“It has always been a dream of mine to direct films and telling this story has truly been an amazing experience,” Questlove said in a statement. “I am overwhelmed and honored by the reception the film is receiving and want to give special thanks to Sundance, and my production partners: Radical Media, Vulcan Productions, Concordia, Play/Action Pictures and LarryBilly Productions.”

Summer of Soul made its world premiere at Sundance, which went virtual this year due to the pandemic.

Read More: Cynthia Erivo and Julie Dash join Sundance Film Festival jury

The awards ceremony marks a key point of the 2021 Festival, where 73 feature-length and 50 short films — selected from more than 14,000 submissions — were showcased online via the Festival’s custom-built online platform, as well as in 28 Satellite Screen locations across the United States. 

This year’s jurors, invited in recognition of their accomplishments in the arts, technical craft and visionary storytelling, deliberated extensively before presenting awards from the stage; this year’s feature film jurors were Julie Dash, Cynthia Erivo, Hanya Yanagihara, Ashley Clark, Joshua Oppenheimer, Lana Wilson, Zeynep Atakan, Isaac Julien, Daniela Vega, Kim Longinotto, Mohamed Saïd Ouma, and Jean Tsien. Kate and Laura Mulleavy served as co-jurors for NEXT. 

“This has been a singular Festival for a singular moment,” said Sundance Institute CEO Keri Putnam. “We’ve been able to elevate independent art and celebrate a wonderful slate of films by gathering in new ways, ways that worked thanks to adventurous audiences everywhere, eager to connect and engage with the work and with one another. Watching people come together to connect and discuss exciting new work has been incredibly rewarding – and a resounding confirmation that great independent storytelling inspires rich conversation.” 

“This was not a ‘virtual’ festival, it was a real festival and the power of these artists and their work was what made it so,” added Sundance Film Festival Director Tabitha Jackson, “It has been a privilege to help this work meet new audiences and enter the culture with such fanfare, especially now, when breaking through the noise is harder than ever.” 

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