The Last Repair Shop (2023) Short Film Review

The Last Repair Shop (2023)
Directors: Kris Bowers, Ben Proudfoot
Starring: Dana Atkinson, Duane Michaels, Paty Moreno, Steve Bagmanyan

Los Angeles, California is home to one of the United States’ last school districts to offer freely repaired musical instruments to students. The Last Repair Shop, nominated in the Documentary Short Subject category at the 96th Academy Awards in 2024, tells of the four unassuming heroes who keep the operation running.

The Last Repair Shop plays like Disney Plus documentary series ‘Light & Magic‘ in all of the best ways. Like the Lucasfilm documentary directed by The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, The Last Repair Shop makes art out of machinery and expresses something inherently artistic in the repairing of instruments. The entire film is bathed in brown and gold, flickers of light illuminating the minutiae of each instrument, of each piece of the repair kit. We see in extreme closeup the precision and care that is necessary for the maintaining of these instruments, and we see young people abuzz with their love for the music those instruments have afforded them to make. This is a Hollywood production in the short form; one that hits on a visual, an emotional, and a contextually meaningful level.

Director Ben Proudfoot, who was nominated in the Documentary Short Subject category at the Oscars in 2021 for the moving and intimate A Concerto Is a Conversation, co-directs this project with one of the subjects of that film, Kris Bowers, a prominent composer and conductor whose musical work spans 2024 Oscars nominee The Color Purple, Oscar-winner King Richard and Best Picture winner Green Book. A Concerto Is a Conversation was a moving insight into the context that makes up any given composer’s sensibilities and attitudes, whilst being primarily about Bowers’ grandfather who risked it all to give his family a better life (a celebration of the everyman). The Last Repair Shop is about what helps artists like Bowers come to exist, and how the most musical of talents might be lost to poverty or lack of opportunity without the social help provided by places like the repair shop.

It’s a story that any artist or would-have-been artist can relate to. Beneath the emotional personal stories of the talking heads that make up this documentary’s cast (the repair shop’s repair team) is the tale of many a child benefitting from access to art or being restricted by the absence of it. We are all artists deep down, and The Last Repair Shop does its utmost to ensure we know that the people repairing the instruments are as much artists as those they’re enabling to play them. This film is about the fulfilment that comes with expressing yourself artistically, and the joy that doing so can provide to others. There are playful and cute moments with the students learning the instruments, and interesting and emotional backstories for those repairing them, but the core of this film is about the importance of having the opportunity for self-expression. It’s a message for good, one that celebrates unsung heroes doing work that could have profound effects; what’s not to love?

Aside from the very high-end presentation of the talking heads and the old photographs that are akin to ‘Light & Magic’, The Last Repair Shop also showcases repairs in truly sumptuous sequences. It’s like watching a live-action version of the repair and clean up service sequence from Toy Story 2, and for that there is surely no higher praise.

The Last Repair Shop doesn’t endeavour to find out how this operation is funded, nor is it interested in any controversy or difference of opinion. It is, simply, a celebration of people doing good work for a good cause. It connects on a human level, and is touching to would-be or would-have-been artists. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences should eat this up in all of its Los Angeles specificity and its industry-adjacent perspective, but whether you’re from LA or not this ought to capture your imagination and restore some hope in the world.

Score: 20/24

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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