CONDUCTING LIFE, 31min., USA, Documentary
Directed by Diane Moore
In the rarified world of classical music, the road to success is a daunting one. Especially for young conductors. CONDUCTING LIFE follows the remarkable journey of Roderick Cox as he tirelessly pursues his dream — to secure a top position with a major orchestra. Poignant and revealing, this is a story about the passion, sacrifice, and courage it takes to succeed in an elusive profession with limited opportunities.
Each summer some of the top performers, instructors, and young musicians gather in my hometown to learn and perform together at the Aspen Music Festival & School. Listening to these musical performances is a joyful experience, as music evokes a range of emotions, transporting listeners to many places, past and present. I thought about the dedication, skills and sacrifices required by the student musicians to master the complex music pieces. I was curious about how their love of music and their pursuit of excellence transformed their lives, and the idea of creating a documentary about the experiences of music students took shape.
The storyline for the film narrowed once I met Roderick Cox in the summer of 2013, an orchestral conducting fellow attending the music school. Roderick’s journey to the concert stage was anything but typical. His background and personal history, his drive and talent, and the formidable odds he faced in a very competitive profession, including the fact that there are very few notable black conductors in the history of classical music, made for a compelling story. His story needed to be told and we have an opportunity to change lives by focusing the conversation on the underrepresentation of musicians of color in classical music.
During my research for the film, I learned that most portrait documentaries were about artists at the end of their career. Roderick was twenty-six years old when we met. I felt that filming Roderick over multiple years and in different locations in the early stages of his career would give audiences the gift of time to see how his life unfolds. I wanted to capture the highs and lows of his personal and musical journey. How does he handle adversity? What are the obstacles? Will he be given a fair chance to compete? What does it take to be a conductor? Will he make it?
One of the things I felt strongly about in the making of CONDUCTING LIFE is that I wanted this film to have its own language, tonally, structurally, and musically. I realized early on that this was not a documentary about Roderick but more about making a documentary with Roderick as he navigates the complexities of his profession at a young age. Viewers will be taken “behind the scenes” to experience different parts of his journey. I wanted Roderick’s passion for music to come through in the film and connect to audiences, and for audiences to experience the beautiful emotional moments of the music making that I experienced in the concert halls filming Roderick. Music is an important element of the storytelling and the selection of the specific music pieces in the film was a critical part of the storytelling. Additionally, Roderick’s mother introduced him to gospel music at a young age and her positive influence on his career was a significant element to weave into the storyline, along with his graduate school mentors.
The world is changing, and classical music can help bridge the racial divide in communities and bring people together to share musical experiences. One of the positive outcomes of making this film was the creation of the Roderick Cox Music Initiative, which awards scholarships to aspiring young classical musicals of color in the Twin Cities area, with the goal of increasing opportunities and equity for black musicians in classical music.
Get to know the filmmaker:
1. What motivated you to make this film?
Music was the inspiration behind CONDUCTING LIFE. I made this film because I wanted to share Roderick's story of how he found hope through music and how he learned to overcome his fears and doubts...... emotions that everyone experiences in life. The film celebrates how music can change a life and Roderick shows us what is possible and what you can achieve if you are willing to work hard and focus on your dreams.
I also wanted to draw attention to the fact that musicians of color are underrepresented in classical music. and Roderick's story is part of the larger conversation about increasing opportunities for young musicians of colors in this profession.
2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?
3. How would you describe your film in two words?
Hope & resilience.
4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
The uncertainty surrounding the pandemic was the biggest obstacle that I faced and I was unsure when I could finalize the production schedule. An important element to the film's storyline was following Roderick on his musical journey, capturing the highs and lows of his journey. We had several important shoots that were scheduled in March & April of 2020, and then the world shut down due to the pandemic. One of the shoots was with the New York Philharmonic in New York City and no one knew when orchestras would play again in front of audiences due to Covid. I had to revise the film's ending and reevaluate how I could capture some essential footage and interviews to complete the film. It really came down to managing the unexpected challenges and recognizing that a different approach and new way of thinking was required to finish the film.
5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
Joy....it was very rewarding to watch the audience discuss CONDUCTING LIFE and learn what resonated with them. As a filmmaker, you are visualizing how you see the film on screen and how it comes to life, and so it is exciting to learn that the way you communicate your ideas, stories, visuals, dialogue, and music appeals to an audience. I was so pleased to learn that the audience really liked the film, it made everything worthwhile.
6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?
It was an evolution of sorts....I immersed myself in photography about 20 years ago, and always loved creating images that could capture a special moment in time. Photographs can convey many things, but films give an artist so many more tools. The stories about people, culture, ideas, and perceptions bring viewers into a place where we can see each other's realities. I believe films represent who we are as humans. and the act of creating a film is an intoxicating process.
7. What film have you seen the most in your life?
The Shawshank Redemption
8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?
It is important to connect independent filmmakers with distributors, agents and others who are looking for content for media outlets. The process of securing distribution is challenging and constantly changing, and independent filmmakers need a lot more resources and connections in the industry if they are to be successful in the film distribution arena. It is a huge accomplishment to finish a quality film but disheartening to have it languish and not shared with a large audience.
9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?
The FilmFreeway platform is excellent and offers filmmakers a seamless process to submit to film festivals. I appreciate the information about a specific film festival that is listed on FilmFreeway as it makes it easier to determine which festival would be the best fit for your film.
10. What is your favorite meal?
11. What is next for you? A new film?
A new film may be on the horizon for me but at this point in time, I am enjoying the film festival experiences.