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Questlove cleans up at Sundance for his ‘Summer of Soul’ directorial debut

The Roots drummer has won both of the top documentary prizes at the Sundance Film Festival.

A still from "Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)" by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson.
A still from "Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)" by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson.Read more/ AP

Questlove’s career as a movie director is off to an auspicious start.

On Tuesday night, Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), his movie about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival — known as “the Black Woodstock” — won the Sundance Film Festival’s two top documentary awards: the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for U.S. documentaries.

“It has always been a dream of mine to direct films, and telling this story has truly been an amazing experience,” he said in a statement. “I am overwhelmed and honored by the reception the film is receiving.”

On Instagram and Twitter, he was more effusive. He posted: “Jesus H Christ!!! We Won FRIGGIN SUNDANCE TWICE!!!!! thanks to everyone who saw our film and supported ... I feel like breakdancin!”

Summer of Soul, identified on its film poster as “A Questlove Jawn,” tells the story of the festival that drew over 300,000 concertgoers to Harlem’s Mount Morris Park on six Sundays between June and August 1969. It featured an all-star lineup, including Sly & the Family Stone, Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, B.B. King, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Max Roach, Mahalia Jackson, and Mavis Staples.

A brief clip of Simone’s performance was included in the 2015 documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?, but the other footage from the festival, which was filmed in its entirety, has been unseen for over 50 years.

The movie includes a clip of the Rev. Jesse Jackson speaking from onstage about the 1968 assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1969 NASA moon landing. “When we’re more concerned about the moon than man, somebody better wake up,” he says.

Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, whose diverse resume includes the Questlove Supreme podcast and a nonstop DJing schedule, as well as culinary ventures under the banner Quest Loves Food, has been juggling several film projects lately. He voiced a jazz drummer for Disney-Pixar’s recent Soul and was a consultant on that movie. He’s also executive producer of The League, an upcoming documentary about Negro League baseball.

Summer of Soul premiered last week and has received rave reviews. Variety called it “revelatory“ and “a music documentary like no other.”

Questlove told the Associated Press that making his directorial debut was daunting. “But I got over my fear. I will often go through imposter syndrome. I realized now that it’s my chance to change someone’s life and tell a story that’s almost erased.”

A spokesperson for the director said it was not yet known who would be distributing the film or when it would go into general release. On Wednesday morning, Questlove said on Twitter that he didn’t expect it will be available for fans to see until “later on this year.”