On Feb. 22, the Paul J. Schupf Art Center hosted a free screening of Summer of Soul as part of the larger campus and community film series. The 2021 documentary sheds light on the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, attended by over 300,000 people in Mount Morris Park. Just south of Woodstock, performances by 19-year-old Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, BB King, 5th Dimension, Mahalia Jackson, Sly and the Family Stone, and others, strove to bring Black people together in the United States during a time of social and political changes. Despite the festival being recorded live, the film sat in a basement for the last 50 years, making attendees even rethink if it had actually happened.
In addition to live performances of rock, R&B, jazz, pop, gospel, and soul music, this film addresses the societal issues faced by the Black community. It serves as a reflection of the times; the loss of multiple civil rights leaders and advocates, the disproportionate rates of Black men fighting on the front line in Vietnam, and the height of a heroin epidemic.
Even though someone landed on the moon during the festival, attendees did not care — explaining that there were people going hungry, yet money was being spent on space exploration.
After watching the movie and presenting his own music before the screening, Caleb Carr `24 shared his interpretation of the film and the power behind the music. He expresses its ability to bring people together to have a good time.
“I think music can create community in many ways, whether it be the vibes that come from it or the actual subject matter. Songs about love often inspire those feelings of love. A song about injustice can inspire activism. I think community comes in the way that the song is received,” Carr said.
“Summer of Soul has inspired me to embrace the expressive side of music. I think that while a lot of the artists that performed probably considered how it sounded, they really thought about the feeling or vibe that they were giving off. That’s something that I really like, when a song emanates emotion or energy,” he went on.
Featured within the film series, Summer of Soul was chosen to complement the latest exhibition in the Colby Museum of Art, showcasing the artists Ashley Bryan and Paula Wilson. Jillian Impastato, the marketing coordinator for campus and community collaboration explained how both this film and the current exhibit in the Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery of Art reflect similar themes and concepts.
“The themes of the exhibit downtown have a lot to do with nature, and how these two artists view art in relation to nature, spirituality, and identity as broader categories,” Impastato said.
In partnership with the Maine Film Center, the Colby Museum of Art brings three films every semester to students, faculty, and the Waterville community. This film is connected to Paula Wilson and her work, and the next screening on April 8 is the Ashley Bryant documentary.
~ Annie Goldstein ’26