A Concerto Is A Conversation


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

A Concerto Is A Conversation
"Beyond the immediate relationship between Kris and Horace, this is also a love letter to the importance of familial support and grandparents everywhere." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Ben Proudfoot's latest short film joins an impressive lineage of New York Times Op-Docs (which he has previously contributed to with the likes of The Lost Astronaut), to shine a light on lives that might otherwise pass without celebration. This time, he co-directs with Green Book composer Kris Bowers, who is also one of the subjects of the film, along with his 91-year-old grandad Horace.

The conversation of the film - which is viewable online here and selected for Sundance later this month - refers to the way Kris describes the term "concerto" to his grandfather - as a conversation between orchestra and soloist - but it also refers to the back and forth between him and his grandfather as Kris learns more about the older man's life.

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What emerges is a tale of overt and, later, latent racism experienced by Horace in the segregation of the Deep South, which he hitchhiked out of without a specific destination in mind. We learn how he quickly learned that his colour was against him in the eyes of many and so he smartly circumvented the problem by, among other things, conducting correspondence by mail, becoming the owner of his own cleaning business within two years.

The filmmakers frequently allow Kris and Horace's faces to fill the frame as they speak directly to the camera, so that there's nothing to distract from their words and visible emotion. This is elegantly interwoven with more relaxed footage of the pair as Horace steam presses a jacket for Kris' recital.

The conversation, accompanied fittingly by a concerto composed by Kris, flows at a gentle pace. It is accompanied by archive footage of Jim Crow-era America and snaps of Kris as a piano-loving school kid, which opens out into a consideration of the nature of societal spaces and whether people feel comfortable or not within them. Beyond the immediate relationship between Kris and Horace, this is also a love letter to the importance of familial support and grandparents everywhere, something Kris credits with giving him the confidence to push onwards with his career. "Never think that you're not supposed to be there because you wouldn't be there if you're not supposed to be there," Horace tells Kris. Wise words for grandkids everywhere.

Reviewed on: 09 Jan 2021
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A Concerto Is A Conversation packshot
Composer Kris Bowers talks to his grandfather Horace about his life.

Director: Kris Bowers, Ben Proudfoot

Writer: Ben Proudfoot

Starring: Kris Bowers, Horace Bowers

Year: 2021

Runtime: 13 minutes

Country: US


Sundance 2021

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