Monday, May 20, 2024

EXCLUSIVE: The Original Discoverer of Questlove’s “Summer of Soul” Footage Says It Was Never “Lost” at All


Joe Lauro, famous documentary filmmaker and archivist, says on Facebook this morning that there’s an untold story behind the footage that has become Questlove’s “Summer of Soul.”

“Summer of Soul” was released on Friday by Searchlight to theaters and is available on Hulu. The film is revives footage from the 1969 Harlem Music Festival that took place two weeks before Woodstock. It contains amazing footage of Stevie Wonder, Sly & the Family Stone, The 5th Dimension, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and so on. I gave “Summer of Soul” a ‘fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

When “Summer of Soul” was shown at Sundance this past winter, we were told the footage had been “lost” and “forgotten” and was recovered by Questlove, who shaped it into this film.

But Lauro, as you will read below, says that’s not exactly true. His version of the events of the history are surprising and revelatory. The footage was neither lost nor forgotten. Lauro, with a long impressive resume, knows exactly what happened to it.

I spoke to Lauro this morning and he confirmed everything he posted. He allowed me to make some small copy-edits. He refers to Hal Tulchin, the original producer/director.

Lauro concludes: “I assure you, if it were not for my efforts the Harlem Festival master tapes would likely still be molding in Mr. Tulchin’s Westchester County basement and Questlove would still be in totally ignorance of their existence.”

Here’s the Facebook post:

“For nearly 50 years, this (Harlem Festival tapes) just sat in a basement and “no one cared” was one of the key premises of the film itself, as stated in the opening montage, that the Harlem Festival footage was LOST FOR 50 YEARS.

This statement at best is hyperbole.

The reality is that in 2004 I tracked down director/producer Hal Tulchin after screening a 16mm syndication print of an episode of his first, Harlem Festival series.

Mr. Tulchin and I went to lunch to discuss the Harlem Festival footage and shortly thereafter he signed a representational agreement with my company Historic Films.  The idea was to license clips to third parties from the 40+ hours of Harlem Festival footage as well as develop a feature length documentary on the event.

I pulled the video tape masters from his Westchester County basement, digitized the reels, logged their contents, archived the 1” submasters at the Historic Films offices  and insisted that Mr. Tulchin copyright all of the reels.  In fact I filled out the forms for him and filed the copyright registration on his behalf  (and on my dime) with the Library Of Congress.

The Library Of Congress was also sent a complete set of videos of the 40+ hours of Harlem Festival  footage as is their requirement for copyright filing.  Through the years of our representation, we licensed excerpts of the footage to several productions including SONY RECORDS who used a sizable portion of the “lost” Nina Simone set in one of their home video releases.

Morgan Neville (Academy Award Winning director TWENTY FEET  FROM STARDOM) Robert Gordon (Emmy winning co-director BEST OF ENEMIES, author of IT CAME FROM MEMPHIS)  and I developed a feature length documentary film on the festival framing the event within the politics and civil right unrest that existed at the time, created a trailer and shopped the production around to several possible distributors.

A deal with a major distributor was in negotiation in 2007 and we were in contract negotiations.  To our surprise the negotiations broke down  and the rep from that company jumped ship and teamed with Mr. Tulchin  dumping Neville, Gordon and myself and taking the Harlem Festival project on as his own. Some 15 years later we have SUMMER OF SOUL.

As an archivist and filmmaker who has spent his 35 year career creating music documentaries, and unearthing and preserving rare musical content, I am delighted that this film has finally been produced.  I only ask that credit for the Harlem Festival footage’s re-discovery be properly given. Producers of a doc such as this that is touting it’s righteousness and quest for truth should at least give credit where it is due.

I assure you, if it were not for my efforts the Harlem Festival master tapes would likely still be molding in Mr. Tulchin’s Westchester County basement and Questlove would still be in totally ignorance of their existence.”

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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