The striking intimacy in the film “The Last Repair Shop,” which won the 2024 Academy Award for best documentary, begins with the Interrotron. Developed by Cambridge documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, the device uses the mirror system of Teleprompters to project live video of the interviewer in front of the recording camera, so the interviewee seemingly looks into the eyes of the interviewer. 

“When you watch the movie they’re looking at you,” says Ben Proudfoot, who directed the documentary with Kris Bowers. “…I’m trying to recreate the look, feel and sound of an intimate person-to-person conversation. … It brings a level of immediate emotional connection with the audience.”

That’s part of what gives such an emotional charge to “The Last Repair Shop,” which looks behind the scenes at the instrument repair shop for the Los Angeles Unified School District, which keeps more than 80,000 musical instruments working for kids in the city’s public schools.

The film began as a collaboration with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, as funding partner, to document music stories in Los Angeles. When a member of the studio team turned up articles about the city’s instrument repair shop, Proudfoot recalls thinking, “I can’t believe that there’s still a shop that still exists.” That feeling was followed by “a pang of sadness that it’s one of the last of a dying breed of repair shops, but I was also proud that LA had it.”

How is the documentary team able to so consistently and movingly draw people out? Proudfoot says he takes the time to get people to tell their whole life stories. “It’s really starting from the very, very beginning. … And being a good listener and a good audience over many hours.” Their method imbues the film with feeling, a feeling “of extreme intimacy of human connection that we’re all desperate to experience.”

“In these films because I’ve not done any pre-interview, the discovery and the revelation is actually happening on the screen,” Proudfoot says. “You’re watching the moment when they make the connection between this childhood memory” and what happened in the rest of their lives. “It embeds the film with love, with the human experience. It embeds the film with something that will never be recreated.”

Related: Oscar-Winning Documentary ‘Last Repair Shop’: Repairing Instruments To Make People Whole Again

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From “The Last Repair Shop." (Courtesy of Breakwater Studios)
From “The Last Repair Shop.” (Courtesy of Breakwater Studios)
From “The Last Repair Shop.” (Courtesy of Breakwater Studios)
Categories: Art