Ava DuVernay has boarded A Concerto Is a Conversation as executive producer. Co-directed by Emmy-winning composer Kris Bowers and Emmy-winning filmmaker Ben Proudfoot, the 13-minute short-subject documentary follows Bowers as he tracks his family’s lineage through his 91-year-old grandfather Horace Bowers from Jim Crow Florida to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
The docu short will have its festival debut at the virtual edition of the Sundance Film Festival starting Friday at 7 a.m. PT as part of Documentary Shorts Program 2. The film is currently streaming at nytimes.com.
Horace Bowers left his home in the Jim Crow South, eventually ending up in Los Angeles. Encountering discrimination at every turn, he and his wife Alice nevertheless made a life as business owners. Their legacy lives on through their family and community in South Los Angeles, where a stretch of Central Avenue was recently designated Bowers Retail Square — in case any question remained about whether it’s a place they belong. Horace Bowers tells his grandson: “Never think that you’re not supposed to be there.”
In a conversation between DuVernay and Bowers (which you can watch above), the Emmy-winning director spoke with the composer about the short. “I was blown away,” DuVernay tells Bowers, adding that the short had “an intimacy within the sphere of Black masculinity that is so rare to see, that crosses the generational divide in a way that is rarely seen.”
She added: “It feels like I’m watching an exchange within my own family. I feel like Black people who have borne witness and participated in that exchange, it will feel beautifully familiar. And for folks who feel like that exchange is foreign or does not exist, it will be instructive. But more than anything, it is a record of a great man.”
Bowers is an Emmy-nominated composer who worked with DuVernay on When They See Us. He also scored the Oscar-winning film Green Book and this year he premiered a new violin concerto, “For a Younger Self,” at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. His other credits include Dear White People and Kobe Bryant’s Muse. He has recorded, performed and collaborated with the likes of Jay-Z, Kanye West, and José James. He also composed music on the Netflix series Bridgerton.
Proudfoot is the founder of Breakwater Studios, which produced the short. He pioneered alternative models of short documentary financing and distribution including noteworthy and award-winning collaborations with the New York Times, Charles Schwab, Annapurna Pictures and the LA Phil. He has directed over 50 noteworthy original short documentaries, with his work appearing at HotDocs, Sundance, Tribeca and Telluride.
Op-Docs is a series of short documentaries from the New York Times, many of which received Oscar nominations including Walk Run Cha-Cha and 4.1 Miles. In 2017, DuVernay put the spotlight on the Op-Docs short Alone directed by Garrett Bradley. Alone was included on the Oscar shortlist and help put shine on Bradley who directed the feature docu Time which is currently an awards-season contender.
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