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Questlove’s ‘Summer of Soul’ Breaks ‘Boys State’ $12M Sundance Doc Sales Record for Searchlight/Hulu

Courtesy of Mass Distraction Media

Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s directorial debut “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” has been acquired by Searchlight Pictures and Hulu after its Sundance premiere, where it won both the Grand Jury prize and Audience award.

“I’m so honored to be allowed to manifest my dreams after all this time,” Thompson said in a statement. “This is truly an honor. ‘Summer Of Soul’ is a passion project and to have it resonate with so many people on so many levels has been incredibly rewarding. I am very happy to begin this new chapter with the team at Searchlight/Disney/Hulu and look forward to sharing the important story behind the film with audiences worldwide.

The deal, brokered by Cinetic Media, is for worldwide distribution rights to the picture, with the film set for theatrical release, as well as exclusively streaming on Hulu in the U.S. and internationally on Star and Star plus.

The documentary was acquired for north of $12 million, two sources with knowledge of the deal tell Variety, resetting the documentary sales record previously broken when Apple and A24 acquired “Boys State” at Sundance last year.

Disney’s Searchlight and Hulu landed the doc in what’s been described as a bidding war between streamers, studios and specialized divisions. But the doc’s eventual record-breaking sale, “validates and values Black storytellers who have been underrepresented for many years,” according to an individual familiar with negotiations.

The documentary, produced by Joseph Patel, Robert Fyvolent and David Dinerstein, unveils the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. The six-week music festival, held at Mount Morris Park in Harlem, boasted a lineup of some of music’s biggest names, including Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Gladys Knight and Pips and Nina Simone. But how did a cultural moment attended by more than 300,000 people go largely unremembered in pop culture for more than 50 years? The answer lies in the more than 45 hours of footage that Thompson and his team of producers unearthed and are now bringing to the screen.

The project has landed with Searchlight Pictures and Disney General Entertainment’s BIPOC Creator initiative, which is led by Tara Duncan.

“It’s rare to find a film that captures the breadth of the Black American experience and also makes you want to dance, testify and sing out loud,” Duncan stated. “Ahmir has gifted us with a brilliantly crafted, nearly forgotten gem from our history, and we are honored to help bring ‘Summer Of Soul’ to audiences.”

Searchlight Chairmen Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula added: “Ahmir has crafted an incredible and inspiring debut film that is both timeless and relevant. We’re very proud to be involved in bringing this cultural celebration to the widest audience possible both in theaters and at home.”

Rebecca Campbell, chairman, International Operations & Direct-to-Consumer, part of Disney Media Entertainment Distribution, called the film, “both a joyous and revelatory documentary helmed by one of the most gifted artists of his generation.”

“We’re honored Hulu and our upcoming Star and Star plus offerings will be the exclusive streaming homes around the world to this groundbreaking film,” Campbell continued.

“Summer of Soul” is directed by Thompson and produced by Patel, Fyvolent and Dinerstein with RadicalMedia serving as creative and production partners. The project is a Vulcan Productions production in association with Concordia Studio, Play/Action Pictures, LarryBilly Productions, and produced by Mass Distraction Media and RadicalMedia.

“It was a joy to support Ahmir and bring this story to life,” added Jon Kamen, executive producer and RadicalMedia CEO. “We’re incredibly proud of the reaction the film has gotten.”

“It was a dream to work with Ahmir on bringing this long-buried treasure back into the world,” said Dinerstein and Fyvolent. “It’s been overwhelming to watch audiences rediscover this lost piece of history and fall in love with our film.”

“As people are struggling to restore their lives in the midst of a pandemic, we feel this film will bring joy, together with a needed reexamination of important social issues,” the producers continued. “We could not have asked for a better launch from the Sundance Film Festival, and we are deeply excited to partner with Searchlight Pictures, Hulu and the Disney family on an epic global release.”

Variety's Angelique Jackson contributed to this post.


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