“Racism is really much more malleable and covert than we think it is,” admits Kris Bowers, the co-director of “A Concerto Is a Conversation. The film, which is part of The New York Times’ nonfiction series “Op-Docs,” is nominated for Best Documentary Short at this year’s Oscars. Check out our exclusive video interview with Bowers and co-director Ben Proudfoot above.
Bowers himself is an Emmy-winning composer who wrote the scores of films such as “Green Book” and “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” as well as television shows such as “When They See Us” and “Bridgerton.” The film weaves together the story of Bowers’ development as a classical musician with his grandfather Horace’s experiences growing up and eventually leaving the Jim Crow South to build a life in California.
Proudfoot chose to shoot the conversations between Bowers and his grandfather using Errol Morris‘ pioneering Interrotron device, which allowed both subjects to look directly into the camera as they talk with each other. The result brings the viewer directly into the conversation in a very personal way. “At least for me, it really brings me closer to Kris and his grandfather,” explains Proudfoot. “It just brings you into a very intimate conversation that almost lives in your memory as if it’s a conversation that you’ve had.”
Both Proudfoot and Bowers found a unique harmony in co-directing the film, with each director bringing his own experience and background to the project. For Proudfoot, it was Bowers’ musical knowledge which helped give the film a structure particularly in regards sheer scope of the film’s musical elements. “That was a huge layer of the film that made up the structure that I was extremely grateful for Kris’s involvement because that’s not my expertise at all,” he says. From Bowers’s perspective, it was Proudfoot’s ability to weave all of these stories into a cohesive film that Bowers is most grateful for. “Finding a way to condense my grandfather’s story, my journey and this idea of what it means to be a black man in this country into 13 minutes,” he exclaims, “I feel like all of this came as a result of us focusing on my grandfather’s story and really making sure that that moment felt like it really landed.”
When asked if his grandfather will accompany him to the Oscars, Bowers is cautiously optimistic. Horace, who is currently battling cancer, has made it his mission to go to the Oscars, going so far as to delay treatment in order to attend. We just have to figure out how to make it as comfortable for him as possible given that it’s a long night and a lot of moving,” he says. “But he’s already excited and figuring out what he’s going to wear.”
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