Sundance Diary, Part 2: Promising Music in a Powerful Film

AO Scott, our critic at large, is keeping a diary as he participates in the Virtual Sundance Film Festival, which runs from Wednesday. Read part 1 here.

Friday, 1 pm It’s been almost a year since I took an airplane, almost since I’ve been in a movie theater and it’s been several months since I woke up at midnight. Sundance Premier screenings are arranged in three-hour windows, making opening times flexible. I was able to wash some dishes before settling in for the evening darshan. And of course a pause button is available for a snack or bathroom break.

Usually I skip an event like “Opening Night Welcome”, but I checked out this brief program of zoom-in greetings and video montages as a way to mark the boundary between everyday life and the festival. I also wanted to have a glimpse of him Tabita jacksonAs director of the festival, he added a new entry to his list for the first time. She is the first woman to lead Sundance, and the first person of color and the first person born outside the United States in that role. And now he is also the first to direct a fully online festival.

In previous years, I found his brief commentary – the strength of the community and the power of storytelling – to be a bit corny. Instead, I was greeted by festivals waving from my living rooms in Austin, Denver, New York and elsewhere. Human connection is not something to take for granted these days.

Then I watched two films, one of which blew me away. I will focus on that one, which has the general festival feeling of positive celebration. Directed by Ahmir Thompson, better known to music lovers as Questlove, this is a documentary called “Heat of soul, “About the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival.

That incident is sometimes called “Black Woodstock”, but the parallel is a bit misleading, and does not do it justice as a concert film to describe “Summer of Soul”. I mean, it performs some absolutely mesmerizing music – including Stevie Wonder, Staple Singers, Max Roach, Nina Simone, Ray Barretto, and Sealy and the Family Stone, among many others – but they’re a vivid and complex They anchor in the tableau. Politics, Culture and City Life.

Thompson makes judicious use of archival footage and currently given interviews to cherish long-lost footage of the festival, which takes place over several summer weekends, including the day of the moon’s descent. He makes the case that what happened in Harlem was the least important, and should be remembered as a watershed moment in the history of Black (as well as New York, American and music).

After more than 50 years, when enthusiastic summer crowds and live performances are out of reach, this is possible and reminds us of the power and promise of popular art in difficult times.

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