Questlove’s film about the Harlem Cultural Festival, plus docs on Rita Moreno and the band Sparks, are among the music-related projects set to screen at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. The 2021 fest will take place digitally, January 28th through February 3rd, with passes and tickets going on sale on January 7th.
Questlove’s Summer of Soul (…Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) marks the drummer’s directorial debut, and the film will have its world premiere at Sundance and screen as part of the U.S. Documentary Competition. The movie tells the story of the Harlem Cultural Festival, a series of concerts that took place during the summer of 1969. It drew hundreds of thousands of attendees and featured performances from Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, the Staple Singers, B.B. King, and more.
Despite its lineup and incredible success, the Harlem Cultural Festival — long known as “black Woodstock” — hardly garnered the same media attention as Woodstock, which took place that same summer about one hundred miles north of Harlem. Adding to the mystery and its muted legacy, footage from the festival has been sitting in a basement, unseen, for over 50 years, and much of it will see the light of day for the first time in Questlove’s film.
Also making its world premiere in the U.S. doc competition is director Mariem Pérez Riera’s Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It. The film tells the story of how Moreno, the celebrated Puerto Rican actress, singer, and dancer, “defied both her humble upbringing and relentless racism” to join the rarified air of EGOT winners, all while “pav[ing] the way for Hispanic-American performers by refusing to be pigeonholed into one-dimensional stereotypes.”
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Elsewhere, Edgar Wright’s new documentary on Sparks, The Sparks Brothers, will have its world premiere at Sundance, although it’s not part of any official competition. The film will dive into the work of brothers Ron and Russell Mael and their remarkable career as one of the most influential, but often underrated and overlooked, rock outfits.
Sundance 2021 will feature a handful of other music-related films, including Andrew Norman Wilson’s short film, In the Air Tonight, which tells a fictionalized version of the apocryphal drowning story that allegedly inspired Phil Collins’ hit song (Wilson originally posted the film on Reddit, presenting it as if it were a real update in a true crime case). Another non-fiction film, Ben Proudfoot’s a Concerto Is a Conversation, traces the family history of celebrated jazz pianist and composer Kris Bowers. And the U.S. Dramatic Competition will feature Siân Heder’s new film, CODA, which tells the story of a child of deaf adults (hence the acronymic title), who grapples with pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents when their fishing business is threatened.