Formed in 2016, Buffalo Documentary Project (BDP) is the brainchild of husband-and-wife documentary filmmakers Mani Mehrvarz and Maryam Muliaee, who recently earned PhDs at University at Buffalo, in its Department of Media Study. By taking a look at their work, we can identify with their inspirations behind their practice. Together along with a team of artists, filmmakers, researchers, and educators, Mehrvarz and Muliaee have set out to tell the Buffalo story, in ways that it typically is not told.
That’s because the people that Mehrvarz and Muliaee manage to capture on film come from all walks of Buffalo life. Like Jim “Swannie” Watkins, for example, who is intermeshed with the iconic grain silos… or the ‘Bubbleman’ in Allentown… or even “Jimmie the Shoemaker,” who has been repairing shoes for decades in North Buffalo. These are people that we might hear about, but really don’t know their life stories and what makes them tick.
Mehrvarz and Muliaee include creative originators like Naila Ansari, Julia Anne Cordani, Pam Glick, and Muliaee herself, who were featured in BDP’s fuller-length video documentary titled Live Your Art (2019 – UB Arts Collaboratory). And John Berg, The Maximalist (2018) – a film about a painter and illustrator who has been making art for over 50 years. These are the stories about Buffalonians, but they are also the stories about Buffalo, told through the eyes of a couple who has set out to uncover the figures that ground them (and us) in time.
“Documentary filmmaking is valuable in preserving lesser-known accounts of places, people, or movements, and bringing them to broader audiences,” said Mehrvarz, founding director, who works alongside Muliaee whose role is as art director, researcher, and animator. “The oral history tradition embodies life; with our aim of connecting viewers with subjects, we introduce ideas that contribute to the interconnected stories of the city through work, care, art, or service.”
Oral history through documentary filmmaking is valued because it can bring to life an account of the city that no one finds in written books and official records.
Mehrvarz and Muliaee have certainly been busy, especially now that they have released their latest film, titled “Work.” This new project documents Buffalo-based contemporary music collective Wooden Cities (formed in 2011), and the ensemble’s passion and drive to release its first full-length album by the same name – “Work.”
^The film features 56 minutes filmed during the ensemble’s summer 2018 recording sessions, as well as director Mani Mehrvarz’s interviews with Wooden Cities’ musicians and ensemble director Brendan Fitzgerald. The film also includes cutting-edge animations to two sections of Frederic Rzewski’s The Price of Oil (recorded for the first time ever for this album), emphasizing the piece’s themes of labor and environmental justice, and made using stop motion techniques amounting to over 80,000 frames. Also, featured are Cardew’s Red Flag Prelude—a musical commemoration of the martyrs of the early labor movement—and Wooden Cities’ Chain Gang, a dynamic free improvisation.
Among BDP’s accolades, “The Price of Oil” won the Unforeseen—the 4th Annual International Experimental Film Festival 2019 in Belgrade, Serbia; earned the “Mention” prize at FIVA, the International Video Art Festival 2019 in Buenos Aires, Argentina; and screened competitively at both the Moscow-based International Video Art Festival Now&After and the Mexico City Independent Film Festival 2020.