By Alonso Castro

Learning from Buffalo (2018), through documentary review of photographic archives, describes and accounts for the transformations, both architectural and in urban design, that have been experienced, from 1900 to the present, in the city of Buffalo, located in the state of New York in the United States. However, the film does not elaborate a flat and expository narrative that describes, at a discursive level, such changes in the city.

In the film, relevant and significant information is exposed to understand the Buffalo transformations, based on testimonies of inhabitants and descriptions elaborated by workers of the city’s photographic archive. In spite of this, the Yamazaki film does not develop an expository approach, but it proposes an observational and contemplative audiovisual treatment that makes it possible to appreciate the deterioration or restoration states. With this, images of different zones and landscapes of the city are reconstructed, as well as the buildings.

This image of the city comes to life beyond the photographic archives through the present portrait of emblematic buildings of Buffalo such as the Darwin D. Martin House, the Guaranty Building, and Kleinhans Music Hall, built in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century by renowned architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Eliel and Eero Saarinen, for example. The fixed plans to the detail of the exteriors and interiors of the buildings, sometimes completely empty and other inhabited, make possible the reconstruction of the dynamism of the past and present of Buffalo.

Through observational cinema, it is realized that the decline of an industrial city that, until the middle of the 20th century, was positioned as prosperous within the United States. The contemplation of those urban spaces in a state of deterioration and abandonment, as well as others that are in restoration and repair, confront the idea of the passage of time not only of the buildings, but of the forms of life within the city, as well as of the links between people and urban fabric that are reconfigured from the economic, urban design and architectural transformations of Buffalo.

With all that, Learning from Buffalo can be seen from two edges. On the one hand, what is explained by Yamazaki provokes a historical and sociological reflection on the transformations of Buffalo from archives and testimonies. On the other hand, it is possible to capture and transmit the beauty and the modern spirit that gave meaning to the buildings and the composition of the city. In this way, Yamazaki generates a living portrait of Buffalo, where it’s possible to contrast past and present to understand part of its history through its architecture and culture, its landscapes and urban dynamism.

Producer, Director: Rima Yamazaki
United States
100 min