Summer of Soul - Documentary Parent's Guide

Summer of Soul - Image from 20th Century Pictures

I don't often talk about documentaries here, but every once in a while, there is a story that I enjoy too much not to share.  Summer of Soul is a documentary that at it's surface tells the story of a music festival in 1969, but more deeply explores the individual and stories of the attendees and how this event both defined and shaped them.

The Harlem Cultural Festival took place at Mount Morris Park just 100 miles away from another famous concert that summer - Woodstock.  Over 300,000 people attended the Harlem Cultural Festival, but the footage has been tucked away until now.  Not only do you get to see some incredible festival performances by B.B. King, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight & The Pips, and more, but you also get a glimpse into life in the summer of 1969 for the people of Harlem.  That sets this documentary apart as it gives historical and social context to the festival.  

While this may not be a film that young children sit down to watch with you, this shouldn't be pushed to the side and labeled as something just for adults.  It's a great watch for teenagers learning about this time period in history class to bear witness to some primary source footage and hear the stories of those who were there.  It will open up important dialogue in your household while also enjoying some great music.  There are parts that may be hard to watch at times - violence, politics, racism, and some language are all important in telling the story - so you'll want to save this for that teenage audience who will be able to both ask questions and more maturely reflect on the movie.  It is well done, powerful, and enlightening!

Summer of Soul - Image from 20th Century Studios

Summer of Soul is now streaming on Disney+ and is also available on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital.  When you bring home your own copy of the documentary, you can also grab these bonus features:

  • Audio Commentary – View the film with audio commentary by director Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson.
  • Soul Searching – A behind-the-scenes look at Summer of Soul. We’ll learn about where the footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival has been, how it was uncovered, and why director Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson decided to tell this story now.
  • Harlem: Then & Now – We revisit Mount Morris Park, location of the Harlem Cultural Festival. We learn how the neighborhood was a crossroads of culture and precarious politics and explore why Summer of Soul is so relevant during this present time of great political upheaval.

About Summer of Soul (From 20th Century Pictures)

Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson presents a powerful and transporting documentary—part music film, part historical record created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion. Over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969, just one hundred miles south of Woodstock, The Harlem Cultural Festival was filmed in Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park). The footage was largely forgotten–until now. Summer of Soul 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.

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