Few visual manifests are as crucial to understanding early 60s counterculture as Murray Lerner’s first solo documentary, Festival!. Filmed over the course of three editions of Newport Folk Festival, it captures its dizzying mid-decade acceleration and features several historical performances—including Dylan’s controversial electric set in 1965.
The film is heavily reminiscent of direct cinema’s aesthetics and language (Robert Drew’s Primary often comes to mind), which is probably why it feels so socio-politically relevant in both its form and content. This has always been folk’s perpetual instigation, of course, but sometime between 1963 and 1965 something shifted. As a new demographic group took over popular culture—and before the system had time to commodify the phenomenon—a window of possibilities opened wide.
If watching today feels Festival! strangely familiar, it’s because it introduced a cinematic language that would become a fundamental reference for the concert film format. American poetic realism at its best, it remains a powerful portrait of a whole generation’s inevitable loss of innocence.