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The Last Repair Shop and Colburn Students Shine Bright at the Oscars

Community School saxophone student Ismerai Calcaneo Lopez (left) and ʴǰè Brinker (right) at the Academy Awards, where The Last Repair Shop won Best DocumentaryShort Film.

On a Saturday in February, Ismerai Calcaneo Lopez, a junior at Roosevelt High School and saxophone student at the Colburn Community School of Performing Arts (CSPA), joined a group of friends to clean out a garage as an odd job. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the afternoon, until she received a text message saying, “Congrats! You’re going to the Oscars.”

Calcaneo Lopez was one of several Colburn students featured in The Last Repair Shop, which won this year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary—Short Film. Community School students Dominic An, Genesis Garay, Esteban Lindo, and Amanda Nova were also featured in the film.

“I’m still amazed,” she says. “I remember being a fifth grader in the rooms of Colburn and Dr. John Hallberg teaching me ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb,’ and then here I was at the Academy Awards. It was crazy.”

The Last Repair Shop was directed and produced by Kris Bowers and Ben Proudfoot, and co-distributed by LA Times Studios and Searchlight. It tells the story of four employees of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) musical instrument repair program. For 65 years, LAUSD artisan technicians have repaired thousands of horns, violins, cellos, woodwinds, percussion instruments, pianos, and more, all at no cost to students. Bowers, a CSPA alum and Grammy-nominated composer and pianist, was one of those students.

“I spent every moment I could with the school’s piano. There, I found a safe place, and I found my voice. Those were the foundational moments that propelled me into the school band. To Juilliard. To the Oscars,” he penned in a letter to The Los Angeles Times last November. “The one person I never got to meet was the man who tuned that school piano.”

That changed when he and Proudfoot met the shop’s supervisor, Steve Bagmanyan, to discuss their project. It turns out, Bagmanyan was that piano tuner years ago.

“When I stepped inside the Los Angeles Unified School District’s central instrument shop four years ago, I was surrounded by incredible cinematic imagery: cascading ribbons of sawdust, blazing torches soldering brass, the grand choreography of the thousands of tiny pieces that magically coalesce inside a piano. I expected that. But what I didn’t expect was that every one of the technicians’ life stories would break my heart and put it back together again,” Bowers wrote.

Indeed, the filmmakers discovered music has impacted each technician’s life in profound and personal ways. And now, they find satisfaction by enabling new generations of artists to experience the myriad benefits of playing an instrument. The Last Repair Shop delivers on that note, too.

“I‘ve always been a kid who gets distracted easily,” says Calcaneo Lopez, who has been attending Colburn for seven years. “When I got the opportunity to play the alto sax, I had something to focus on. I learned time management. I learned more discipline. When playing music, you have to be on time, be presentable, and do the best you can.”

“Music is a big part of my life. I listen to it every day and it helps me get through my life. It also makes me feel like I’m part of a community,” adds Dominic An, a Community School violin student who was also featured in the documentary.

The Colburn students in the documentary were recommended by Susan Cook, Dean of the Community School. They auditioned for Bowers and Proudfoot via Zoom during the pandemic. Months later some of them received an invitation to be interviewed and filmed in Colburn’s Zipper Hall. Months after that, they were asked to perform with the LAUSD Alumni band to record a song written by Bowers for the film’s score.

“That was a wonderful experience, to interact with the composer and be a part of history,” says An.

Of course, one of the pinnacle moments for Calcaneo Lopez was attending the 96th Academy Awards ceremony on March 10th. While most stars arrive at the event via limousines, she and the other cast members drove up to the red carpet in a traditional yellow school bus.

“We were representing who we are. We were representing our community and what the film meant to us,” says Calcaneo Lopez.

And for this saxophonist, being a part of The Last Repair Shop has meant gaining a greater respect for the people music has brought into her life.

“The whole experience helped me see С槼ֱ from another point of view,” she explains. “I’m grateful Colburn is not just a music school, but a family you create.”

The Last Repair Shop is available for viewing on Disney+ and at .