A concerto is a conversation (2020)
Director: Kris Bowers, Ben Proudfoot
Writer: Ben Proudfoot
In 2019, Peter Farrelly’s Green book won the award for best film at the Oscars, the controversy broke out around the whitewashing perceived by the black history film and what the moment has said about the contemporary United States. On the stage stood an assembly of predominantly white men whose message had been read as a message of acceptance and progression by the Academy, and one of a shallow savior complex by the film’s many critics. . Among the group of enthusiastic winners was Kris Bowers, the film’s African-American co-composer. We did not know then that Bowers, through the courage of his grandfather Horace Bowers Sr. decades ago, would be the culmination of generations of hard work and sacrifice; the end result of his family’s pursuit of the American Dream.
Oscars 2021 Nominated for a short documentary A concerto is a conversation is co-directed by the composer he highlights, Kris Bowers seated directly in front of a camera to record a conversation between him and his 91-year-old grandfather about his grandfather’s youth, his lifelong struggle against the racists and the many sacrifices he made to improve his life and that of his family. Shown as on the other side of the lens, and speaking just as gracefully into his, Horace Bowers Sr is an interesting subject; a man with a deep history, but whose warmth, sincerity and simplicity bring out the reality of the number of black Americans who have lived through their own stories like this.
Thanks to personal testimonies juxtaposed with archival images and images of Horace Sr accompanying his grandson in a concert hall for an interpretation of his grandson’s composition, A concerto is a conversation takes only 13 minutes to offer a deeper portrayal of racial tension, societal progression, and personal vindication than many feature films. We learn how Horace Sr had to start a business through connections he made over the phone due to the way people refused to work with him or gave him business loans based on the color of his skin. We learn how he was first exposed to racism as a child when a white boy no older than him called his father “boy” and his father responded with “sir”. It is a moving portrayal of a life that undoubtedly has endless detail beyond the confines of the film, but more than struggle and injustice. A concerto is a conversation is a celebration of Horace Sr. and the legacy he forged.
Seeing the fruits of Kris Bowers ‘labor as a songwriter, and seeing him back to back with his grandfather’s story, it is evident that Bowers’ work is the result of the sacrifice and courage of his great -father, that the music he creates is as much linked to the voice of Horace Sr. as to him. His concerto is a conversation; the one between him and his grandfather, himself and his inheritance, himself and his nation. It’s a conversation between the combination of all of these and each of us.
While A concerto is a conversation is not the kind of documentary likely to bring about a radical change in the real world, it is an intimate portrait linked somewhat deeply to a timeless art form; 13 minutes of moving and moving documentary cinema.