“It just seemed to be the perfect film at the perfect time,” declares editor Joshua Pearson about “Summer of Soul,” the critically acclaimed documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. The film, directed by Questlove, won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and was recently nominated for six Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards, including a Best Editing nod for Pearson. Check our exclusive video interview with the Emmy-nominated editor above.
Pearson admits that “Summer of Soul” was in many ways a perfect assignment for him given his love of music and history. “I’m a huge history buff to begin with. I pretty much read nothing by non-fiction history books, and I’m particularly fascinated by the late sixties,” he explains. “The black civil rights struggle has been a huge influence on me. It’s just so inspiring to read about the incredible courage that black people have had and continue to have struggling with this bizarro, white supremacist nation that we live in.”
The bulk of the Hulu film consists of concert footage taken from hours of previously unseen video recordings of the festival, including performances by Stevie Wonder, Mavis Staples, Gladys Knight and Nina Simone. Pearson says that his job was complicated by the lack of having multiple angles to choose from. “We could not find any [isolated] reels of the individual cameras,” he says. “So they literally just did a live line cut that day or whatever days the performances happened.” Pearson was able to “spice up” the performances use certain tricks of the trade. “I was able to sort of spice them up by cheating in crowd shots from other performances. I’m even sometimes cheating in other performances by that band,” he explains.
Pearson believes that the film has resonated so strongly with audience because of what he sees as a great similarity between the political and social upheavals of 1969 and today, particularly the murder of George Floyd and the Covid-19 lockdowns. “It just seemed like the world had gone completely insane and it was super resonant with what was happening in 1969,” argues Pearson. “I love that Questlove makes the point a lot that he wanted this film to show more Black joy and less Black pain, and I think we’ve accomplished that.”
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