Sundance Dispatch: Summer of Soul & All Light, Everywhere
Summer of Soul
If you were looking for one consensus hit out of Sundance’s 2021 iteration, you’d probably point towards Ahmir-Khalib Thompson’s Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised). Better known as Questlove, the frontman for the Roots takes us back to the other major music festival of the summer of 1969, foregrounding the Harlem Cultural Festival that shone a spotlight on an astonishing line-up of predominantly Black artists. Thompson shows a keen sense for documentary context, using the Festival as a hub to explore much of the artistic, cultural, and political upheaval of the period, but while the experts and festival-goers he interviews are (mostly) insightful, the real draw is the footage: filmed over the course of six weeks by filmmaker Hal Tulchin, a lack of interest from studios led 40+ hours of film to sit unseen for decades until Thompson and his team came along to curate it into a two-hour movie. And while any record of the performances by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, and Sly and the Family Stone would be welcome, the footage itself is in such pristine condition it almost feels like it was filmed yesterday, making Summer of Soul about as close to a time machine as you can get.
All Light, Everywhere
Theo Anthony’s All Light, Everywhere plays more like a visual essay than your typical documentary, but I don’t mean that as a slight — the variation in form leads to one of the more engrossing non-fiction offerings at the festival. Anthony takes us through the history of the camera, tying its beginnings and usage in astronomy and other scientific pursuits directly to its omnipresence as part of the modern surveillance state. Much of your standard documentary meat stems from his interviews with an executive at Axon (formerly Taser), diving chillingly into their latest law enforcement technology, but the real brilliance of Anthony’s project comes from how he shows the ways in which the camera isn’t the objective observer we might think it is. As we see, it’s not so much that the camera doesn’t capture reality — although some special effects footage furthers that thesis — it’s that the camera inherently changes one’s behavior once one becomes aware of its presence. Combined with community commentary about the balance between safety and privacy and an inside look at the Baltimore Police Department, All Light, Everywhere becomes a subtle, often mesmerizing piece of work that speaks volumes about the form.