One of Bubas first film portraits, J. RoyNew
and Used Furniture (1974), follows a man who has had 11 failed businesses
but now feels that he can finally make it with a cluttered second
hand shop. Despite his failures, we see J. Roy lecturing his staff
about the secrets to success, and we hear his ambitious plans to
install a drive-in used car lot upstairs. We see him in a tuxedo,
expecting 2000 people for the grand opening featuring a ribbon cutting
ceremony with the Mayor, but only the Mayor shows up. Sweet Sal
(1979) follows a charismatic ex-numbers runner, Sal Caru, who conveys
a tough guy persona for the camera, but this charade ends at the
end of the film when he visits his fathers grave. Buba portrays
both J. Roy and Sal with humor and respect, as they both reflect
the American Dream and the economic circumstances in Braddock. And
just as Bubas relationship with Braddock has continued over
the years, the subjects of his films also re-appear in later films.
Both J. Roy and Sal appear in Lightning Over Braddock, in which
Sal claims that he made Buba through the success of
One reason for Sals claim is due a particularly
fortuitous screening of Sweet Sal in 1979, when renowned German
filmmaker Werner Herzog was in Pittsburgh for a retrospective at
The Carnegie. Herzog had agreed to spend some time looking at the
work of local filmmakers, and he responded very strongly to Bubas
Sweet Sal. Do you have any more? I want to see everything
youve made Herzog reportedly demanded. Herzog has since
been one of many strong advocates for Bubas work, but even
before this meeting Bubas films had been winning awards and
citations at documentary film festivals across the country.
Buba earned an MFA in film production from Ohio University
in 1976, and worked as a sound recordist on horror films by Pittsburgh
native George Romero (Martin, Dawn of the Dead). This allowed Buba
to stay relatively close to home and to continue exploring Braddock
as a subject for his films. I didnt start out with this
whole idea of chronicling Braddock, he explains, It
just became something that happened. In 1978, he was hired
as a visiting professor at the University of Southern IllinoisCarbondale,
and since then has also taught at Ohio University, Edinboro University
of Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh Filmmakers.
In 1983, Buba completed Voices from a Steeltown,
his first extended analysis of the economic history of Braddock.
Braddock had been a boom town when Andrew Carnegie opened
his first steel mill there, and it became thriving cultural and
commercial center. What Braddock Makes the World Takes
became the towns slogan. But now Braddock was going bust,
and its remaining residents were trying to figure out what happened.
This is personal filmmaking at its best...and it is socially
conscious filmmaking at its best, critic Pat Aufderheide wrote,
Bubas camera picks up the symbols and ruins of the community,
as well as putting in the center of the picture Braddock residents
struggling to comprehend and cherish their past and to build a future.
Voices from a Steeltown aired on PBS stations on a regional basis,
further expanding Bubas audience.
In 1985, Buba received the Hazlett Award for Pennsylvania
Media Artist of the Year, which acknowledged his growing body of
work. He also found support for his new projects through a Guggenheim
Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in the
Media Arts. His new projects found new audiences and wider exposure.
His short Braddock Food Bank (1985) toured with the Black Maria
Film Festival and aired on the prestigious documentary series P.O.V.
This support also led Buba to his most ambitious
project to that point, the feature length Lightning Over Braddock:
A Rustbowl Fantasy, in 1988. Buba describes the film as a
parodic fusion of social documentary, autobiographical dilemma,
and whimsical fantasy woven into a fictionalized story line.
At the heart of the film, Buba reflects on the irony that his fortunes
as a filmmaker rose because of Braddocks decline. He also
traces his strained relationship with Sal Caru through a fictionalized
storyline about a possible feature film deal starring Sal with Buba
directing. Meanwhile, the film also documents the real life drama
of the USX Companys closing of the Dorothy Six steel mill
in Braddock. I mixed fiction and documentary because I wanted
the viewers to be in doubt about what was real and what wasnt,
instead of just sitting there being a good consumer, Buba
explained, I wanted the audience to be annoyed with me. I
wanted the audience to ask Why isnt he doing more on
the important issues, why does he want to make a Hollywood film?
Lightning Over Braddock was featured at the Toronto International
Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival, and it was nominated
for Best First Feature Film at the Independent Spirit Awards. It
has also been broadcast on Bravo and the Sundance Channel.
Buba ventured into fiction filmmaking with No Pets
in 1994, an adaptation of a short story by Michigan-based writer
Jim Daniels. The tagline for the film, A Post-Industrial Romance,
signals to the viewer that Buba will still explore issues relevant
to the working-class, as the film is based upon Daniels experiences
on the job at an automobile production plant. When No Pets played
at the London Film Festival, Trevor Johnson at Time Out called the
film, a perceptive, unpatronising and compassionate study
of an ordinary blue collar worker...Theres no false promises
or fake uplift here, just a well observed stare in the face of uncomfortable
Bubas most recent feature length documentary
project, Struggles in Steel: A Story of African-American Steelworkers
(1996), began when Bubas friend Raymond Henderson saw a television
documentary on unemployed steelworkers. As a former mill grievance
man and NAACP chapter president, Henderson was outraged that he
saw no African-Americans telling their story in the documentary,
so he approached Buba about the possibility of making their own
film. Even before collaborating with Buba, Henderson had collected
oral histories from black steelworkers in the hopes of documenting
their vitally important contributions to the American steel industry.
We originally planned to do a half-hour documentary,
Buba explained, but we became more ambitious when middle-age
med began crying on camera talking about their experiences.
Buba and Henderson were able to expand the scope of the film when
the Independent Television Service awarded them a grant after seeing
a 12-minute version of the material that Buba had edited. The film
introduces us to many hard working and dedicated African-American
men and women who were not allowed to advance in the mills due to
the color of their skin. We wanted to show real role models,
Henderson said, While the media wants to present athletes
or entertainers as our role models, the real role models were our
fathers and mothers who worked hard every day. By allowing
these men and women to tell their own stories, Buba and Henderson
do more than simply convey the facts about this history. We also
see the passion, anger, frustration, and dignity with which these
workers struggled to make things better for themselves and their
families. More than anything, Ray wanted to show folks that
the elderly, sometimes broken men you see walking around town paved
the way with their suffering and patience, Buba observed.
After the completion of Struggles in Steel, Buba was
awarded Artist of the Year by the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts
in 1998. He also received the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University
Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism in 1999. Struggles
in Steel was featured at several important film festivals including
Sundance, and it has aired on the Sundance Channel and PBS.
Bubas residency is sponsored by the Department
of Communication Arts in collaboration with the Creative Writing
Program in the Department of English, the School of Journalism and
Mass Communication, and Wisconsin Public Television. In the Fall
2001 semester, Buba will teach two filmmaking courses, "Documentary
Video: Exploring Wisconsin Life" and "Personal Documentary
Film & Video Workshop." Just as Buba has explored his hometown
of Braddock, both of these courses will encourage students to find
their own voice by asking questions about their experiences in Wisconsin,
and to develop their journalistic and creative skills in the process.
Buba will also present public screenings of his work, and participate
in outreach activities with participating departments and Wisconsin