: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Completed


A portrait of Miles Davis and his only protege, Wallace Roney, told through the fifty year journey of the artist’s lost masterpiece, “Universe.”


When Wallace Roney recovers “The Universe Compositions,” an orchestral jazz suite written in 1968 and left unrecorded by his mentor Miles Davis, he inherits the missing link in the history of jazz. As he prepares to record and debut the music, Wallace finds that each song is a portrait in miniature of his mentor, and that he must find a way to step out of Miles Davis’ shadow in order to truly succeed him.


We originally conceived of Universe as a short film. We thought the music would speak for itself and that a straightforward music doc about the studio recording process would suffice as the best way to tell this story. But the more time we spent with Wallace Roney, our main character, the more we understood that our story was fundamentally about mentorship and art made across generations. Watching Wallace interact with the world—with music, with peers, with the industry—you see how he has modeled himself after his mentor, Miles Davis. Even his body language, the way he dresses, the tone of his trumpet playing…they’re elements that are best shown via the film medium. And they’re also elements of the story that are best told as a feature film, where we’re allowed time to let the characters breathe rather than ping-ponging between plot points. This is when we decided on our aesthetic approach to the film—observational, black-and-white, static compositions—that would show Wallace in the light of a golden-era jazz icon such as Miles Davis, even while showing that he existed in a lower-income, non-famous capacity. Films about the music of jazz are so often worshipful of the medium’s history. Jazz documentaries often tend towards history lessons or gussied up Wikipedia profiles. With Universe, we want to show jazz as an artform passed down among generations. The music in question was passed down from Wayne Shorter to Miles Davis to Wallace Roney over the course of fifty years. In the film, Wallace passes on his own mastery of the music to the next generation coming up behind him. It’s in this way that Universe is about mentorship and jazz as a music that is forward-facing, rather than an intellectual music housed by historical institutions and conservatories. We want to tell a story about jazz that inspires young musicians by showing them that the music’s history is to be expanded upon with creativity of their own. On another level, we’re hoping to tell a new story about Miles Davis. In the past, documentarians have attempted to tackle his entire biography; to create the “authoritative” story about Miles Davis. We’re approaching his story differently. Our portrait of Miles Davis is through the eyes of his protege; someone who absorbed all the legends, rumors, and art of this cultural icon, and then used them to build his own persona. This portrait of Miles is leaner; it’s focused on a singular friendship and mentorship by Miles Davis. By narrowing the scope of his portraiture, we hope to tell a more expressive, acute story about him.


Leah Thomas - Producer
Leah Thomas recently produced 25 TO LIFE, winner of the CNN Grand Jury Prize at American Black Film Festival 2014 (Netflix), 3 1/2 MINUTES winner of the Special Jury Award for Social Impact, Sundance 2015 (Participant Media, HBO) and shortlisted for the 2015 Academy Awards and AMERICA DIVIDED, a five part documentary series focused on inequality in America, (EPIX). She is a member of BAFTA, a Tribeca Film Festival Industry Delegate, sits on the grants panel for the Brooklyn Arts Council, is the 2016 recipient of the NYU — Critical Collaborations Fellowship, a three year honor, a 2016 Sundance Creative Producers Lab Fellowship and the winner of the 2016 Tribeca CHANEL Through Her Lens, Women’s Filmmakers Fellowship.

Esther Dere - Producer
Esther Dere is an Emmy nominated producer & filmmaker. Esther has spent the last 14 years as a creative and intuitive producer with Federated Media & Full Picture, as well as major networks A&E, ABC, CBS & VH1 among others. Her latest project, a feature length doc entitled Biggie: The Life of Notorious BIG premiered on A&E in September 2017.


Connect With The Filmmakers:


The Gotham Film & Media Institute - Fiscal Sponsorship Program 2024


Help promote my fundraising campaign
Put our donation widget on your website

Get Widget Code



The Gotham Logo


© 2024 The Gotham. All Rights Reserved.
   Design by Andrew Martin

The Gotham Film & Media Institute is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to finding, developing and celebrating the people and projects that shape the future of story.

Learn more about us or become a member