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Film Review: A Concerto is a Conversation
by Karen Pecota


An Academy Award contender for Best Documentary Short at the 2021 Academy Awards Ceremony, scheduled for April 25, 2021, is A Concerto is a Conversation. Film directors Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers showcase a family story of unique lineage. In addition to great storytelling, we are grateful for the opportunity that The New York Times Op-Docs affords to allow this narrative to have a voice and to appear on the world-wide platform of filmmaking.

You may recall that the Emmy-winning composer, Kris Bowers, is responsible for composing the musical score for the Oscar-winning film Green Book (2016). He was 29-years-old at the time of this honor and has since achieved other accolades. Bowers recently premiered a new violin concerto, "For a Younger Self," at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

In talking with his grandfather about his work, Kris was asked, "What is a concerto?" Kris answers, "Basically, this piece has a soloist and an ensemble (orchestra). The composer wants to frame it as if the two are having a conversation."

Proudfoot, an Emmy-winning filmmaker, unfolds a 13-minute conversation with Kris Bowers and his grandfather, Horace Bowers, when Kris questions his remarkable success as a Black composer. He says, "I've been wondering whether or not I'm supposed to be in the spaces that I'm in."

At the age of 91, Horace's response to his grandson was, "Never think that you're not supposed to be there because you wouldn't be there if you weren't supposed to be there." Horace shares with Kris the reasons for his advice as he recalls growing-up in the Jim Crow South (namely Florida) to his adventures that allowed him to settle in Los Angeles.

It was during this time Horace announces to his family that he is diagnosed with cancer. At this revelation, Kris wanted to spend as much time as possible with his grandfather. He wanted to learn as much from Horace before he was no longer present. Kris yearned to know more about his grandfather's life.

Proudfoot and Kris turn the camera on and listen to Horace explain remarkable adventures and that, in spite of experiencing discrimination no matter where he went, he and his wife Alice pursued their dreams and became successful business owners. Today, the Bowers family legacy is evident. It reaches into the community in South Los Angeles, where a stretch of Central Avenue was recently designated Bowers Retail Square. There is no question as to where the Bowers family was supposed to be.

Proudfoot and Kris dialogue between themselves as directors on what they witnessed. Proudfoot asks Kris what it was like to show the film to his grandfather. Kris said, "I think that my grandfather has done something so incredible and profound. What's even more incredible is that he's one of many countless Black Americans who were part of the Great Migration, who went to go find something bigger and better for their families and created this lineage that did the same."

In addition, Proudfoot asked Kris if he saw similarities between his grandfather and himself in their different careers. Kris chuckles and says, "The late nights and early mornings!" He adds, "... the balance of own family time, or personal time, or personal health." Continuing, "Also, dedication to being really good at what you do." Proudfoot shows us in A Concerto is a Conversation how Horace, even at 91-years-old, takes pride as an expert in his craft. Kris says, "This was something I admired and felt a kinship with."

After viewing A Concerto is a Conversation you will know why it was among the list of Academy Award nominations. You can currently view this film on The New York Times Op-Docs platform. You will be glad you did...