“The Last Repair Shop” Co-Composer & Co-Director Kris Bowers on his Perfectly Tuned Oscar-Nominated Doc

Composer Kris Bowers has emerged as one of Hollywood’s most versatile film scorers with a stunning list of credits, including Ava DuVernay’s Origin, The Color Purple, and the upcoming Bob Marley: One Love. But Bowers is also the Oscar-nominated co-director of this year’s documentary short The Last Repair Shop, which spotlighted a story right in Bowers’s backyard.

The Los Angeles native graduated from the Los Angeles Unified School District (LA) prior to earning degrees from the Juilliard School. The Last Repair Shop, now streaming on Disney+ and Hulu, profiles four dedicated craftspeople in a downtown Los Angeles warehouse that, since 1959, has kept more than 80,000 instruments — tubas, violins, pianos, guitars, flutes — in working condition for the students of the LAUSD. Los Angeles is the largest US city providing free instrument repairs to public schoolchildren and one of the last remaining cities to offer this service.

“I didn’t know about it at all. It’s amazing to get to know these people and point a spotlight on them and what they do,” says Bowers. Profiled in the film are Steve Bagmanyan and his three musical instrument technician colleagues, Paty Moreno (brass), Duane Michaels (woodwinds), and Dana Atkinson (strings), along with several current LAUSD students whose lives have been enhanced and transformed by playing their instruments. It was Bagmanyan who tuned the LAUSD pianos that were so pivotal to Bowers’s own musical development.

“He was assigned to my elementary and middle schools, so it was amazing to be able to say thank you to him,” Bowers says.

Bowers re-teamed with Ben Proudfoot, the Oscar-winning director of the 2021 documentary The Queen of Basketball. Bowers and Proudfoot co-directed A Concerto is a Conversation in 2020, which was nominated for a Best Short Documentary Oscar. They became good friends and developed a “natural partnership,” says Bowers, that is reflected in the film’s interviewers with the four craftspeople at the shop who share their personal journeys of struggle and healing. It was Bowers’s idea to include interviews with several young LAUSD music students.

“When I watched [early] footage, I knew the kids needed to be represented,” he says. “It surprised me that these individuals who do this work with so much passion and with the kids in mind never get to hear from the kids about how much it means to them. It’s the other side of the conversation and also because I was one of those kids. I wanted to encourage them to contemplate how these instruments are repaired and taken care of.  For me, it was surprising and heartwarming how much they are able to articulate what their instrument means to them.”

The personal testimony shared by Bagmanyan, Moreno, Michaels and Atkinson shaped the film’s theme of repair and restoration.

“It’s always nice when what the person’s doing becomes an externalization of what’s happening with them internally,” says Bowers. “Repair is such a beautiful metaphor for those experiences.”

That metaphor is particularly moving as the film documents the careful cleaning and fixing of the many instruments, a precise process requiring experience and knowledge. Such care seems a quaint throwback in our disposable culture.  “Musical instruments actually sound better the older they get, if they’ve been played and worn in. If they’re taken care of and repaired in the right way, it ends up a richer sounding instrument,” Bowers says.

The film’s powerful finale, a performance of a Bowers composition by LAUSD students and alumni ranging in age from 7 to 70 and joined by the four craftspeople who’ve been maintaining their instruments, was a “mad dash” to complete, Bowers says.

“We submitted the film to Telluride without that ending; it was just a credit roll. We had a short window between the time [of acceptance] to when the festival was happening to do add it so we reached out to every contact we could. Peter Rotter, who is one of our executive producers, went to LAUSD and he said he could get for us LSUSD musicians working in LA who’ve been touched by this repair shop that’s been around for 65 years. Ben and I worked over several days where I wrote the score, then made adjustments as we visualized shooting it. We had three hours to record the music with everyone seeing [the score] for the first time which shows you what amazing musicians there are in this city.”

Bowers described the day long shoot of the performance as akin to a “family reunion.”

“Seeing all these people come into this space — an older musician who played on ‘Jaws’ talking to a younger one because they went to same school decades apart — that type of energy was really beautiful to be around. All the musicians said they didn’t want to be paid; they just wanted to give back to the repair shop and say thank you. There was such an outpouring of love in so many ways that day.”


Bowers sees music composition and filmmaking as twin parts of his creativity. “Everything is storytelling for me; everything I do is driven by emotion and story, so filmmaking is an extension of that,” he says. “My second language is music. Sometimes, I’m more fluent in music than verbally and I think my wife would agree with that. I love documentaries; I love animation. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an animator even more than a musician for a while, so I’d love to play with animation at some point.”

The March 10 Oscar ceremony will be Bowers’ third time at the event. He was part of the team for 2018 Best Picture winner Green Book even though his score wasn’t nominated, then came his successive nominations for the two short documentaries. This year is particularly exciting, Bowers says because he will be sharing the night with longtime friends who are also Oscar-nominated. “Danielle Brooks and Jon Batiste I’ve known since college. I can go to the Super Bowl of our industry and not only be there myself but also see the familiar faces of people I know who have put in the time and work. To know what’s transpired between then and now is an added bonus.”

Featured image: LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 09: Kris Bowers performs during an event for the music from “The Color Purple”and Ava DuVernay’s “Origin” Panel at GRAMMY Museum L.A. Live on December 09, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Unique Nicole/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)



Loren King

Loren King is an entertainment journalist whose features and reviews appear regularly in various publications and online. She is past president of the Boston Society of Film Critics and lives in Southeastern Massachusetts. You can follow her on Twitter: @lorenkingwriter