By Lynn Venhaus
Just 100 miles south of Woodstock, another music fair and similar Aquarian exposition took place in an urban enclave during the summer of 1969. We would not know about the Harlem Cultural Festival had Questlove not shared this historical record with us.

During that fateful summer, the Harlem Cultural Festival was filmed in Mount Morris Park over the course of six weeks. It featured some of the biggest gospel, rhythm & blues, and pop stars of that era. The footage was never seen and largely forgotten – until now.

“Summer of Soul,” with the subtitle, “…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised,” takes us to church while teaching us about Black history, culture and fashion.

As the director, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson powerfully captures a time, an epic and electric event that meant so much to the peaceful crowd that came to share the universal language of music – changing the way we viewed the voices of our generation.

For some, it was a spiritual reckoning. For others, an example of the healing power of music, particularly at a time of great unrest.

Watching this with an audience, you will get your groove on – it’s hard not to feel the energy of Stevie Wonder, Sly & The Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, The Fifth Dimension and the passion of Nina Simone, Hugh Masekela, Mavis Staples, and David Ruffin.

Between June 29 and Aug. 24, 1969, about 300,000 people attended the festival – young, old, families, couples, friends and neighbors.

This film won both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize in the Documentary competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. It is Questlove’s debut as a director, and he displays a keen sense of storytelling and appreciation for the history — you can’t have a movie set 52 years ago without giving some context. You may know Questlove as the bandleader of The Roots, Jimmy Fallon’s house band on “The Tonight Show” or from his work with “A Tribe Called Quest.”

The Vietnam War was raging, civil rights were being fought for, America was changing in its landscape and values. It was a time of great flux, but Questlove focuses on the strong sense of pride and unity among African Americans, now referring to themselves as Black.

The Fifth Dimension

 He captures those feelings in the personal reflections of people who were there – in the audience and the musicians on stage who are still living.

St. Louisans Marilyn McCoo, 77, and Billy Davis Jr., 83, talk about their struggles trying to fit in as The 5th Dimension. Their backstory about the band’s no. 1 hit in ’69 – “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” is one of the most interesting.

Questlove has gathered an eclectic group to serve as the ‘talking heads.’ There are modern entertainers – Chris Rock, Lin-Manuel Miranda and his activist father, Luis Miranda, plus actor-producer Musa Jackson and former New York Times reporter Charlayne Hunter-Gault, who beautifully frame the event by looking back – and what it means moving forward.

Above all, the film is a glorious celebration of music, as ebullient as the beaming faces in the crowd and those moved to dance, exuding such palpable joy.

“Summer of Soul” stands tall among a crowded field of recent outstanding music documentaries. You won’t soon forget what you learn and how you feel during the nearly two-hour run time.

“Summer of Soul” is a 2021 documentary directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. It is rated PG-13 for some disturbing images, smoking and brief drug material and runs 1 hour, 57 minutes. It is in theaters and streaming on Hulu beginning July 2. Lynn’s Grade: A

Golden Anniversaries, which is co-presented by Cinema St. Louis (CSL) and the St. Louis Public Library, features classic films celebrating their 50th anniversaries. This third edition of the event will highlight 14 films from 1970, including two double bills.

Because in-person screenings remain problematic during the pandemic, Cinema St. Louis will hold free online conversations on the films, with people watching the films on their own but gathering virtually to discuss them.

Film critics, film academics, and filmmakers will offer introductory remarks and then participate in discussions about the films. Those conversations will be offered as free live streams at 7:30 PM every Monday from Aug. 10-Oct. 26. Participants will need to register for the live streams on the CSL website.

Elliott Gould, Tom Skerritt, Donald Sutherland in “M*A*S*H”

In addition to a fine selection of St. Louis critics, Golden Anniversaries will feature a quartet of experts from elsewhere, including David Edelstein, chief film critic of New York magazine (“M*A*S*H” on Aug. 10); AJ Schnack, director of such documentaries as “Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns),” “Kurt Cobain About a Son,” “We Always Lie to Strangers,” and the recent “Long Gone Summer” (double bill of “Gimme Shelter” and “Woodstock” on Sept. 7); Charles Taylor, author of “Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American ’70s” (“Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” on Sept. 21); and Novotny Lawrence, author of “Blaxploitation Films of the 1970s: Blackness and Genre” (double bill of “Cotton Comes to Harlem” and “The Watermelon Man” on Sept. 28).

The discussions with the presenters will be facilitated by Cliff Froehlich, CSL’s executive director. Audience members will be able to ask questions and make observations on the films through the chat function of the live stream; those queries and comments will be relayed to the presenter by CSL.

The introductions and discussions will also be recorded and archived on CSL’s YouTube channel. Essays on many of the films will appear on The Lens, CSL’s blog.

For more information, please visit cinemastlouis.org/golden-anniversaries.

Husbands

FILMS

For full info on films, see CSL’s website.

7:30 PM Monday, Aug. 10

M*A*S*H

Robert Altman, U.S., 1970, 116 min.

Intro and discussion by David Edelstein, chief film critic for New York magazine (currently on furlough), commentator on “CBS Sunday Morning,” and former film critic for NPR’s “Fresh Air,” Slate, New York Post, Village Voice, and Boston Phoenix.

7:30 PM Monday, Aug. 17

Patton

Franklin J. Schaffner, U.S., 1970, 172 min.

Intro and discussion by Andrew Wyatt, editor of and film critic for Cinema St. Louis’ blog, The Lens.

7:30 PM Monday, Aug. 24

Husbands

John Cassavetes, U.S., 1970, 131 min.

Intro and discussion by Lynn Venhaus, film critic for the Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS (550 AM).

7:30 PM Monday, Aug. 31

The Conformist

Bernardo Bertolucci, Italy, 1970, 113 min., Italian

Intro and discussion by Diane Carson, professor emerita of film at St. Louis Community College at Meramec and film critic for KDHX (88.1 FM).

7:30 PM Monday, Sept. 7

Gimme Shelter

Albert Maysles, David Maysles & Charlotte Zwerin, U.S., 1970, 91 min.

Woodstock: The Director’s Cut

Michael Wadleigh, U.S., 1970, 224 min.

Intro and discussion by AJ Schnack, director of the documentaries “Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns),” “Kurt Cobain About a Son,” “We Always Lie to Strangers,” and “Long Gone Summer.”

7:30 PM Monday, Sept. 14

Claire’s Knee

Eric Rohmer, France, 1970, 105 min., French

Intro and discussion by Robert Garrick, attorney and former contributor to the davekehr.com film blog.

7:30 PM Monday, Sept. 21

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Russ Meyer, U.S., 1970, 109 min.

Intro and discussion by Charles Taylor, author of “Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American ’70s” and former film critic for Salon.

7:30 PM Monday, Sept. 28

Cotton Comes to Harlem

Cotton Comes to Harlem

Ossie Davis, U.S., 1970, 97 min.

The Watermelon Man

Melvin van Peebles, U.S., 1970, 100 min.

Intro and discussion by Novotny Lawrence, associate professor at Iowa State University, author of “Blaxploitation Films of the 1970s: Blackness and Genre,” editor of “Documenting the Black Experience,” and co-editor of “Beyond Blaxploitation.”

7:30 PM Monday, Oct. 5

Five Easy Pieces

Bob Rafelson, U.S., 1970, 98 min.

Intro and discussion by Calvin Wilson, theater critic and former film critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

7:30 PM Monday, Oct. 12

The Traveling Executioner

Jack Smight, U.S., 1970, 95 min.

Intro and discussion by Kayla McCulloch, film critic for Cinema St. Louis’ blog, The Lens.

7:30 PM Monday, Oct. 19

Wanda

Barbara Loden, U.S., 1970, 102 min.

Intro and discussion by Cait Lore, film critic for Cinema St. Louis’ blog, The Lens.

7:30 PM Monday, Oct. 26

Performance

Donald Cammell & Nicolas Roeg, U.K., 1970, 105 min.

Intro and discussion by Robert Hunt, former film critic for The Riverfront Times.

Woodstock: The Director’s Cut