This documentary is the digital resurrection of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. The footage has been edited with narration referencing that time. What could have simply been a concert film becomes African American history in the making. It’s an unearthed treasure that’s destined to become the favorite memorabilia of millions.
The concert creator, Tony Lawrence, held a series of summer concerts at Harlem’s Mount Morris Park. He had convinced the mayor, John Lindsey, they were what the community needed. He was proved correct when more than 300,000 attended. The events were filmed but, after that summer, the 40 hours of footage sat in a basement for 50 years. This incredible event was lost – until now.
Rescued music included Motown pop, jazz, Afrobeat, blues, gospel, psychedelic funk and, of course, soul. The line-up was ‘sixties fabulous’. Everyone wanted a piece of Harlem’s beating heart. Mahalia Jackson; Mavid Staples; Sly and the Family Stone; Nina Simone; B.B. King; the Staple Singers; the 5th Dimension; Ray Baretto; Max Roach: Abbey Lincoln; Hugh Masekela; Mongo Santamaria; Babatunde Olatunji; ex-Temptations David Ruffin; Gladys Knight and the Pips and Stevie Wonder were on the bill. With the Black Panthers providing security, the cast was complete.
The famed Woodstock Festival took place in the same summer, only 100 miles away. Both audiences represented communities on the brink of watershed countercultures, but only Woodstock received press coverage. Harlem was virtually ignored by every outlet of the mainstream media. Footage from Woodstock was edited into a movie that received global distribution. Peace and love were the ‘new thing’. But the material for the crudely described ‘Black Woodstock’ had no bidders.
It was the Generation X musician Ahmire “Questlove” Thompson, who discovered the footage did, in fact, still exist. It was meticulously restored and the original artists were invited to take a look. Their reactions to watching their young selves is priceless. They’re the Baby Boomers who followed the Silent Generation – and they’re making the most exquisite noise!
Directed by Ahmire Thompson
*Thompson is a legendary American musician. This is his debut as a filmmaker. He’s a songwriter, disc jockey, journalist, drummer and front-man for the Hip Hop band The Roots.
Produced by Concordia Studios.
Premiered and opening film at Sundance Film Festival January 28th, 2021