Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson has announced his second feature film as a director quickly on the heels of winning both the grand jury and audience prizes at Sundance this month for his first documentary, “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised).” He’ll return to that same era and musical milieu with a a documentary about Sly Stone, the frontman of Sly and the Family Stone, a group that appeared in 1969 footage used in “Summer of Soul.”
“It goes beyond saying that Sly’s creative legacy is in my DNA,” said the Roots member and music producer turned filmmaker in announcing the new film on Friday. “It’s a Black musician’s blueprint.” He added, “To be given the honor to explore his history and legacy is beyond a dream for me.”
The “Untitled Sly Stone Project” was announced by MRC Non-Fiction, which is following up a Sundance bow of its own. The festival just hosted the premiere of director Edgar Wright’s “The Sparks Brothers,” a documentary about the rock band Sparks that marked MRC Non-Fiction’s feature-length debut as a company.
Questlove’s “Summer of Soul” set a sales record for a documentary bowing at the Sundance Film Festival when it was sold for $12 million earlier this month to Disney’s Searchlight and Hulu.
“Sly’s influence on popular music and culture as a whole is immeasurable, and what his career represents is a parable that transcends time and place,” said Amit Dey, the head of MRC Non-Fiction, in a statement. “Questlove’s vision, sensitivity and reverence bring the urgency that Sly’s story and music deserve, and we’re excited to be working with him to bring Sly’s story to life.”
Another hip-hop great from Questlove’s musical generation, Common, is on the project as an executive producer, representing Stardust Films, with Derek Dudley and Shelby Stone of ID8 Multimedia also coming in as executive producers.
Derik Murray and Brian Gersh of Network Entertainment will serve as the film’s producers. Questlove’s own producing partners are Zarah Zohlman and Shawn Gee of Two One Five Entertainment.
A synopsis describes the artist born Sylvester Stewart as “breaking all the rules at a time when doing so was extremely challenging, even dangerous,” adding that Sly and the Family Stone’s massive success and “the responsibility of representing Black America forced him to walk the fine line of impossible expectations.”
The latter part of that description alludes to Stone’s troubled personal life, reclusiveness and long absence from music after a run of albums that began in 1967 and took a decades-long pause after 1982. Top music industry figures have attempted throughout subsequence years to coax Stone back into the creative process and limelight, usually with no or only the most fleeting success.
One of Sly and the Family Stone’s landmark albums, “Stand!,” came out in 1969, the year the group played at the Harlem Cultural Festival, footage from which was used in “Summer of Soul.” The group’s indelible funk and soul hits from its late ’60s/early ’70s heyday include “Everyday People,” “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” “Dance to the Music,” “I Want to Take You Higher” and “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again).”
Questlove’s credits prior to triumphing at Sundance as a director included co-producing the original Broadway cast album for “Hamilton,” which flew back up the charts last year after the filmed version of the show premiered on Disney Plus. He executive-produced AMC’s series “Hip-Hop: The Songs That Shook America” and exec-produced and composed music for the A&E miniseries “Roots.”
Prior to “Roots,” there were the 14 albums released or co-recorded by the Roots from 1993 forward, representing one of the most influential ouevres in the history of progressive hip-hop. The year of the group’s final new album to date, 2014, marked the beginning of the Roots’ tenure as house band for “The Tonight Show Featuring Jimmy Fallon.”