The Roots drummer and musical director Amir “Questlove” Thompson has made a seamless transition from his seat behind the drum set to the director’s chair. His first film, Summer of Soul (Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) which documents a series of concerts held in Harlem has been a runaway success, according to Deadline.
The film grossed $1.4 million and was estimated to pull in a total of $1.47 million by Monday with a $375,000 second-week gross in 752 theaters. In the first few weeks of its release, Summer of Soul is the best-performing documentary so far this year and it “may possibly get to $2 million, that’s our goal,” said Searchlight Pictures head of distribution Frank Rodriquez.
Set at the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969, the film features performances from Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King Nina Simone, The 5th Dimension, The Staple Singers, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Sly and the Family Stone, and many more. Amazingly, the footage was locked away in the basement for fifty years until Quest got involved with the project and along with Robert Fyvolent who acquired the television and film rights.
Summer of Soul first premiered on January 28, 2021, at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award in the US Documentary Competition.
In an interview with Vibe magazine, Quest gave the context for the film and the long-lasting cultural relevance of the iconic event.
“Before 2020 I would say that maybe in America, 1969 is the most important year. I think in 2030 you’re going to see a lot of documentaries on 2020. It’s almost like 2020 might be the new important year and ‘69 might have to go to second place,” explained The Roots drummer.
“So the obvious answer is the paradigm shift of a new generation, a younger generation of the Civil Rights Movement, somewhat more insistent [and] less patient than before. Fist banging on the table, “We want it now!” Being Black is now a concept and a way of life in 1969, where it wasn’t that way before and it was not lost on me that we were living through this in real time 50 years later,” he mused.
In another interview with Forbes, Quest explained how Summer Of Soul led him to another documentary project best on the life and times of legendary Sly Stone.
“My relationship with There’s A Riot Goin’ On is kind of different than everyone else’s. Yes, I do acknowledge it as a masterpiece, as the first funk record. But I also acknowledge it as a man in pain and that couldn’t escape me,” he recalled.
“And the thing is like, “Wow, this is the best time of your life, this is the moment you’ve been waiting for your entire life.” I want to know what happened between Woodstock, summer of ’69, and December of ’71 when There’s a Riot Goin’ On. What happened that caused this turnaround, this dark period of your life? So be careful what you ask for. Literally, I just said, “Someone should make a movie about that. I’d love to see that.” Common, of all people, calls maybe three months later, “Hey, what do you know about Sly Stone?” I’m like, “What?!” That was an instant yes. The approach I want to take is less about the tragic musician that’s always late. I really want to dissect inside of his soul and really get to the plight of an artist and the pressures of an artist,” he continued.
Summer of Soul is now playing in select theaters and available for streaming on Hulu.