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'A Concerto Is a Conversation' Short Documentary Heats Up Awards Season

A virtuoso jazz pianist and film composer tracking his family’s lineage through his 91-year-old grandfather from Jim Crow Florida to the Walt Disney Concert Hall is a connection many would not think could happen, and yet it has. A Concerto Is a Conversation, Co-directed by rising Hollywood composer Kris Bowers, who has worked on the Green Book, Bridgerton, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, is among the 10 finalists competing for the Oscar for Best Documentary Short. This acclaimed film, executive produced by Oscar-nominated and Emmy Award-winning, filmmaker, Ava DuVernay, recently premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and is now streaming from The New York Times Op-Docs.

Kris Bowers is one of Hollywood’s rising young composers. At 29, he scored the Oscar-winning film Green Book (2018), and this year he premiered a new violin concerto, For a Younger Self, at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. For all that success, though, he says that as a Black composer, “I’ve been wondering whether or not I’m supposed to be in the spaces that I’m in.”

In A Concerto Is a Conversation, Bowers traces the process of breaking into new spaces through generations of sacrifice that came before him, focusing on the story of his grandfather Horace Bowers. As a young man, he 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.

Today, 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.

DuVernay and Bowers discussed the film in a pre-recorded conversation. “I was blown away,” DuVernay tells Bowers about her response to his intimate film, which she also called “a balm for these times.” DuVernay says the film captured “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” and, later, that “it feels like I’m watching an exchange within my own family. I feel like Black people who have born 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.”


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