LAUSD Workers Featured in Oscar-Nominated Film “The Last Repair Shop” to Attend Red Carpet Premiere

This article is part of a partnership between The 74 and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

When the makers of the Oscar-nominated short film “The Last Repair Shop” hit the red carpet next month, the four LAUSD employees responsible for maintaining thousands of musical instruments will be by their side.

The four skilled workers in one of the few remaining free instrument repair facilities in the nation are central to the acclaimed documentary, now available on the Los Angeles Times YouTube Channel and Disney+. The movie showcases the stories of these unsung heroes from LAUSD who play a vital role in promoting music education in Los Angeles.

They are now poised for their moment in Hollywood.

“Everyone is thrilled about this unique experience,” shared film co-director Ben Proudfoot (Oscar winner for The Queen of Basketball) with LA School Report. “There’s a lot of excitement about what to wear! The current plan is for them to wear their aprons, especially for the red carpet photos to ensure their recognition!”

The documentary, co-directed by LAUSD alumnus Kris Bowers (Composer for The Color Purple, King Richard, and Bridgerton), delves into the journey of the shop supervisor and piano tuner, Steve Bagmanyan, who repaired Bowers’ piano during his time as an LAUSD student in the 90s.

(Directors Kris Bowers (left) and Ben Proudfoot (right))

For over six decades, Los Angeles has been one of the few school districts offering free instrument repair services to students. Supported by a team of 12, these four LAUSD employees diligently work in a warehouse on Naomi Avenue in Los Angeles.

Bagmanyan expressed his anticipation for the Oscars night but emphasized his dedication to LAUSD students and their musical instruments.

“My Oscars are the daily contributions I make to our kids, to our students,” Bagmanyan shared with LA School Report. “When I witness a satisfied teacher, receive a thank-you email, or a card from students, that, to me, is our Oscar.”

Regarding his attire for the grand Hollywood event, Bagmanyan mentioned he would wear the tux he wore at his daughter’s wedding two years ago. The Last Repair Shop highlights Bagmanyan, along with string expert Dana Atkinson, brass specialist Paty Morena, and woodwind keeper Duane Michaels. They share personal narratives, shedding light on their lives and professions. The documentary also features several LAUSD students discussing how music enriches their lives.

(Repair Person Duane Michaels fixing broken instrument)

Since the film’s release, the team has garnered community acclaim. Apart from the Oscars red carpet appearance, they received recognition at L.A. city hall in January.

“It’s remarkably cathartic when, after servicing public school instruments for two decades, you find yourself in the council chambers of L.A. City Hall, being honored for your service and the numerous lives you’ve impacted,” stated Proudfoot. Aligned with the repair shop ethos, employees revive and maintain approximately 80,000 instruments, which, according to Bagmanyan, has surged to about 140,000 recently.

Repair person Dana Atkinson assessing a broken stringed instrument (Breakwater Studio)

From restoring rusty tubas with sound baths to tuning off-key violins with precision tools, every instrument receives meticulous care.

An instrument getting fixed at LAUSD’s music repair shop (Breakwater Studio)

“The city council president likened 21st-century L.A. to 18th-century Vienna, highlighting it as a hub for music,” Proudfoot remarked. “He hailed these repairers as the heroes of our city and the global musical community.”

“This isn’t just a repair shop for musical instruments,” Bagmanyan declares in the film. “When an instrument breaks, it means a student goes without. Not in our city.”

Proudfoot emphasized the pivotal role of LAUSD’s music program in fostering opportunities and nurturing talent, positioning Los Angeles as the epicenter of creativity and a hub for budding musicians.

Students featured in The Last Repair Shop express their deep connection with music, with statements like “the violin is my closest companion” or “the saxophone soothes me during tough times.” These sentiments underscore the profound impact of music on their lives.

“Their profound insights on the significance of music in navigating life’s journey were truly moving,” shared Bowers.

The film culminates with an emotional reunion of LAUSD alumni performing together on the Warner Bros. Eastwood Scoring Stage.

Final scene of The Last Repair Shop, featuring LAUSD students and graduates playing “The Alumni” (Breakwater Studio)

“We had individuals who played on the ‘Jaws’ score in 1975 from LAUSD, alongside a 9-year-old student named Porshay just beginning her violin journey,” Proudfoot noted. “This unique ensemble of past and present LAUSD musicians is a testament to the power of music.”

LAUSD student “Porché ” featured in “The Last Repair Shop”, playing alongside LAUSD alumni/student (Breakwater Studio)

Following the documentary’s success, LAUSD aims to expand its music programs and forge new partnerships. The documentary has sparked interest and support for further arts initiatives within the district.

“We are looking to enhance the capabilities at the repair shop,” said arts administrator Titus Campos. “We are in discussions with Ben and Kris to potentially enlarge our technician team, speeding up the instrument repair process.”

Bowers expressed pride in showcasing the repair shop’s work and looked forward to sharing the Oscars experience with these talented craftspeople.

“Our goal with this film was to shed light on these extraordinary individuals who have profoundly impacted countless lives through their unseen work,” Bowers remarked. “Witnessing Steve, Paty, Duane, and Dana being recognized and celebrated on such a grand stage is the pinnacle of our film’s objectives.”

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