‘Summer of Soul’ Sweeps 2021 Critics Choice Documentary Awards

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Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s Summer of Soul won all six categories in which it was nominated at the 2021 Critics Choice Documentary Awards, which were handed out Sunday (Nov. 14) in Brooklyn. The film, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, features footage, largely forgotten and unseen for 50 years, of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, featuring Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder and more.

Among the film’s awards haul was the trophy for best documentary, the top award of the night. In his speech, Questlove said, “This is hands down the best night of my life.” Going into the ceremony, Questlove’s Summer of Soul was tied for the most nominations with fellow first-time director Jessica Kingdon’s Ascension, which went home empty handed.

Summer of Soul’s sweep began early in the ceremony when it won the first award of the night for best first documentary feature. “I’ve been in this industry for 30-plus years and I always thought celebrating something was a weakness. When my first album came out or when my first book came out or my first day of teaching class, I sort of just pushed it to the side like it was nothing. I’ve learned that it’s safe to celebrate an achievement so how ironic that this new journey in my life starts now,” Questlove said in his first acceptance speech.

Summer of Soul also was named best archival documentary. Questlove kicked off his second speech with, “This isn’t awkward at all.” The film also went on to win best music documentary and best editing, the latter of which Questlove presented, giving out a little shout of excitement before announcing the winner. Questlove also tied for best director alongside Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin for The Rescue. The best director award was presented by Dana Delany, who called Questlove the MVP of the night.

Before the awards, Questlove told The Hollywood Reporter that a win would be a “cherry on top” of the effort that went into the film.“There’s a lot of hard work that went into this and to see something in fruition after 50 years of a stalled car would be rather sweet,” he said. When asked what he hopes viewers take away from the film, his answer was simple: “joy.” “This is probably definitely one of the happiest documentaries that I’ve ever seen, even though I’m a part of it,” he said. “To see it is something to behold.”

The Rescue, which went into the night with five nominations, won two more awards, for best cinematography and best score. Fellow five-time nominee, Liz Garbus’ Becoming Cousteau, won best science documentary. Edgar Wright’s The Sparks Brothers, Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground and Leo Scott and Ting Poo’s Val Kilmer exploration Val were each nominated for four awards. After winning the award for best historical or biographical documentary for Val, Poo praised Kilmer for his role in the project.

“I want to thank Val, who couldn’t be here with us tonight, but it’s because of him and his spirit and just his willingness to share with us his most intimate thoughts and feelings and put it out there for everyone to see that made this film truly special,” Poo said. Val also won for best narration. Before the awards ceremony, Poo told THR of the reaction to the film, “The biggest thing for me is that so many people feel they know him now in a way they didn’t before. He’s such an iconic actor but really quite an enigma for many people. He really opened up and let people know what he’s like and who he is and some of his most innermost thoughts and feelings.”

R.J. Cutler, whose most recent film is Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry, which was up for best music documentary, received the D.A. Pennebaker Award, from Chris Hegedus, the longtime partner of the award’s late namesake, D.A. Pennebaker. Onstage, Hegedus recalled first encountering Cutler — “a young, enthusiastic, red-headed, freckle-face guy wearing a wrinkled t-shirt, shorts and high-top sneakers” — when they worked together, with Pennebaker and Wendy Ettinger, on the acclaimed 1993 political documentary The War Room, which took viewers inside Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign.

Despite long wanting to do a film about someone running for president, Hegedus recalled, she and Pennebaker told Cutler and Ettinger that they needed money and access, something the two young producers secured just a week later. “Unfortunately the money was just about enough to get us in trouble and the access turned out to be to the staff of the least popular candidate in New York…Bill Clinton,” Hegedus said. Taking the stage to accept his honor, Cutler said he and Ettinger had gone out to dinner and celebrated after that initial meeting, thinking they were making a movie, all they had to do was get money and access.

Cutler, who called Pennebaker his mentor, spoke about how the late filmmaker believed documentaries could be as compelling as narrative films. “Here we are in 2021 and [that] vision has come to pass,” he said. “Documentaries are proving to be just as popular with audiences as narrative films and just as impactful on the culture.”He also shared a sweet surprise, revealing that he and his wife just six months ago welcomed their third child, “Penny,” whom they named in memory of Pennebaker. The sixth annual awards, an offshoot of the Critics Choice Awards, were hosted by The Daily Show‘s Roy Wood Jr. at BRIC in Brooklyn. The honors recognize the best theatrical, TV and digital documentaries.

A full list of this year’s Critics Choice Documentary Awards winners follows.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURESummer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (Searchlight Pictures/Onyx Collective/Hulu) (WINNER) Ascension (MTV Documentary Films)
Attica (Showtime)
Becoming Cousteau (Picturehouse/National Geographic Documentary Films)
The Crime of the Century (HBO Documentary Films)
A Crime on the Bayou (Augusta Films/Shout! Studios)
Flee (Neon/Participant)
Introducing, Selma Blair (Discovery+)
The Lost Leonardo (Sony Pictures Classics)
My Name is Pauli Murray (Amazon Studios)
Procession (Netflix)
The Rescue (National Geographic Documentary Films)

BEST DIRECTOR (TIE)Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin – The Rescue (National Geographic Documentary Films) (WINNER)
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson – Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)(Searchlight Pictures/Onyx Collective/Hulu) (WINNER)

Liz Garbus – Becoming Cousteau (Picturehouse/National Geographic Documentary Films)
Jessica Kingdon – Ascension (MTV Documentary Films)
Stanley Nelson and Traci A. Curry – Attica (Showtime)
Jonas Poher Rasmussen – Flee (Neon/Participant)
Edgar Wright – The Sparks Brothers (Focus Features)

BEST FIRST DOCUMENTARY FEATUREAhmir “Questlove” Thompson – Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)(Searchlight Pictures/Onyx Collective/Hulu) (WINNER)
Jessica Beshir – Faya Dayi (Janus Films)
Rachel Fleit – Introducing, Selma Blair (Discovery+)
Todd Haynes – The Velvet Underground (Apple TV+)
Jessica Kingdon – Ascension (MTV Documentary Films)
Kristine Stolakis – Pray Away (Netflix)
Edgar Wright – The Sparks Brothers (Focus Features)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHYDavid Katznelson, Ian Seabrook and Picha Srisansanee – The Rescue (National Geographic Documentary Films) (WINNER) Jessica Beshir – Faya Dayi (Janus Films)
Jonathan Griffith, Brett Lowell and Austin Siadak – The Alpinist (Roadside Attractions)
Jessica Kingdon and Nathan Truesdell – Ascension (MTV Documentary Films)
Nelson Hume and Alan Jacobsen – The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52 (Bleecker Street Media)
Emiliano Villanueva – A Cop Movie (Netflix)
Pete West – Puff: Wonders of the Reef (Netflix)

BEST EDITINGJoshua L. Pearson – Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (Searchlight Pictures/Onyx Collective/Hulu) (WINNER)
Francisco Bello, Matthew Heineman, Gabriel Rhodes and David Zieff – The First Wave (National Geographic Documentary Films)
Jeff Consiglio – LFG (HBO Max and CNN Films)
Bob Eisenhardt – The Rescue (National Geographic Documentary Films)
Affonso Gonçalves and Adam Kurnitz – The Velvet Underground (Apple TV+)
Jessica Kingdon – Ascension (MTV Documentary Films)
Julian Quantrill – The Real Charlie Chaplin (Showtime)

BEST NARRATIONVal (Amazon Studios) (WINNER)
Jack Kilmer, Narrator
Val Kilmer, Writer9/11: Inside the President’s War Room (Apple TV+)
Jeff Daniels, NarratorBecoming Cousteau (Picturehouse/National Geographic Documentary Films)
Vincent Cassel, Narrator
Mark Monroe and Pax Wassermann, WritersThe Crime of the Century (HBO Documentary Films)
Alex Gibney, Narrator & WriterThe Neutral Ground (PBS)
CJ Hunt, Narrator & WriterThe Real Charlie Chaplin (Showtime)
Pearl Mackie, Narrator
Oliver Kindeberg, Peter Middleton and James Spinney, WritersThe Year Earth Changed (Apple TV+)
David Attenborough, Narrator

BEST SCOREDaniel Pemberton – The Rescue (National Geographic Documentary Films) (WINNER)
Jongnic Bontemps – My Name is Pauli Murray (Amazon Studios)
Dan Deacon – Ascension (MTV Documentary Films)
Alex Lasarenko and David Little – The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52 (Bleecker Street Media)
Cyrus Melchor – LFG (HBO/CNN)
Rachel Portman – Julia (Sony Pictures Classics)
Dirac Sea – Final Account (Focus Features)

BEST ARCHIVAL DOCUMENTARYSummer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)(Searchlight Pictures/Onyx Collective/Hulu) (WINNER)
Becoming Cousteau
(Picturehouse/National Geographic Documentary Films)
The Real Charlie Chaplin (Showtime)
The Real Right Stuff (Disney+)
Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street (HBO Documentary Films)
Val (Amazon Studios)
The Velvet Underground (Apple TV+)

BEST HISTORICAL OR BIOGRAPHICAL DOCUMENTARYVal (Amazon Studios) (WINNER)
Attica
(Showtime)
A Crime on the Bayou (Augusta Films/Shout! Studios)
Fauci (Magnolia Pictures/National Geographic Documentary Films)
Final Account (Focus Features)
Julia (Sony Pictures Classics)
My Name is Pauli Murray (Amazon Studios)
No Ordinary Man (Oscilloscope)

BEST MUSIC DOCUMENTARYSummer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)(Searchlight Pictures/Onyx Collective/Hulu) (WINNER)
Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry
(Apple TV+)
Bitchin’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James (Showtime)
Listening to Kenny G (HBO Documentary Films)
The Sparks Brothers (Focus Features)
Tina (HBO Documentary Films)
The Velvet Underground (Apple TV+)

BEST POLITICAL DOCUMENTARYThe Crime of the Century (HBO Documentary Films) (WINNER) Enemies of the State (IFC Films)
Four Hours at the Capitol (HBO Documentary Films)
Influence (StoryScope, EyeSteelFilm)
Mayor Pete (Amazon Studios)
Missing in Brooks County (Giant Pictures)
Nasrin (Hulu)
Not Going Quietly (Greenwich Entertainment)

BEST SCIENCE/NATURE DOCUMENTARYBecoming Cousteau (Picturehouse/National Geographic Documentary Films) (WINNER)
Fauci (National Geographic Documentary Films)
The First Wave (National Geographic Documentary Films)
The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52 (Bleecker Street Media)
Playing with Sharks (National Geographic Documentary Films)
Puff: Wonders of the Reef (Netflix)
The Year Earth Changed (Apple TV+)

BEST SPORTS DOCUMENTARYThe Alpinist (Roadside Attractions)(WINNER)
Changing the Game (Hulu)
The Day Sports Stood Still (HBO)
Kevin Garnett: Anything is Possible (Showtime)
LFG (HBO Max/CNN Films)
Tiger (HBO)

BEST SHORT DOCUMENTARYThe Queen of Basketball (The New York Times)(WINNER)
Audible
(Netflix)
Borat’s American Lockdown (Amazon Studios)
Camp Confidential: America’s Secret Nazis (Netflix)
Day of Rage: How Trump Supporters Took the U.S. Capitol (The New York Times)
The Doll (Jumping Ibex)
The Last Cruise (HBO Documentary Films)
Snowy (TIME Studios)

MOST COMPELLING LIVING SUBJECTS OF A DOCUMENTARY (HONOR)Ady Barkan – Not Going Quietly (Greenwich Entertainment)
Selma Blair – Introducing, Selma Blair (Discovery+)
Pete Buttigieg – Mayor Pete (Amazon Studios)
Anthony Fauci – Fauci (Magnolia Pictures/National Geographic Documentary Films)
Ben Fong-Torres – Like a Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres (StudioLA.TV)
Val Kilmer – Val (Amazon Studios)
Ron and Russell Mael – The Sparks Brothers (Focus Features)
Rita Moreno – Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It (Roadside Attractions)
Valerie Taylor – Playing With Sharks: The Valerie Taylor Story (Disney+)

This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.

 
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