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Why Ava DuVernay Cried Hearing Kris Bowers’ Music

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Composer Kris Bowers calls the score to Ava DuVernay‘s “Origin” “one of the most meaningful” of his career, but there’s one music cue, “Leaves,” which he says “stands out as one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever composed.”

Inspired by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, “Origin” follows Wilkerson’s journey in writing the book. Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor plays Isabel as the film explores how caste systems have shaped societies.

“Leaves,” a soaring six-minute piece features the musician on piano. It is first heard when Isabel discovers her husband has passed away. The music captures the emotional heart of the film and Ellis-Taylor’s heartbreaking yet powerful performance.

When DuVernay saw the “Leaves” sequence with music, the filmmaker says, “I broke down in tears. He got inside the story in such an intimate way.” Adds DuVernay, “the beauty and majesty that Kris Bowers contributed to ‘Origin’ through his soaring, poignant score was monumental to my process as a filmmaker.”

Says Bowers, “My approach to writing it was based in improvisation, allowing the deeply emotional performances, Ava’s surreal imagery, and the pacing of the cut, to lead the timing of every note and phrase in the score.”

Speaking with Variety last year, Bowers explained he and DuVernay had discussed the idea of a main theme. “Leaves” is also heard when Isabel’s mother dies. He says, “Over the course of the film, as we see her deal with that trauma and by the end teach us how to face trauma, can that theme become a global theme?”

Aside from “Leaves,” Bowers collaborated with Dalit musicians and studied the music that had been written during the Holocaust to spotlight the different cultures represented in the film.

Says DuVernay, “Collaborating with Kris is a true gift as his artistry is steeped in all of the things that matter to me: imagery, history, humanity. We’ve worked together four times now and it just gets better. I feel this score is his best yet.”

Watch the video below.

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