Tony Buba has spent the last 50 years making documentary films about the workers, activists, and “mafia wannabes” in the struggling Rust Belt town of Braddock, Allegheny County, his hometown made prominent in recent years by its former mayor, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

It’s how Buba, 75, earned his moniker: the Bard of Braddock. Now he’s coming to Philly.

Starting at 7 p.m. Thursday, West Philadelphia’s Scribe Video Center will host a series of screenings of Buba’s films as part of its “Body of Work” retrospective program.

Tony Buba (in vest) while filming his 2013 "We Are Alive!: The Fight to Save Braddock Hospital."
Courtesy Scribe Video Center
Tony Buba (in vest) while filming his 2013 "We Are Alive!: The Fight to Save Braddock Hospital."

In a feature for Topic magazine that details Buba’s talent for building rapport with his on-screen subjects and his conflicted feelings about being an artist among his working-class neighbors, writer Steve Macfarlane says this about Buba’s 1996 Struggles in Steel: A Story of African-American Steel Workers — which Scribe will screen Thursday:

The film focuses in particular on the mistreatment of Henderson’s elders at the hands of the steelworkers’ union, which privileged white workers and withheld benefits from black members. One interviewee describes training an inexperienced white man, then seeing him go on to become his boss. ... What leavens the material is the obvious camaraderie between the filmmakers and the talent, cracking wise about a nightmarish situation—the same common touch that separates Buba’s work from other hard-charging, dogmatic works of nonfiction.
Steve Macfarlane

Buba’s work is unique because of the way it combines his “serious political commitment” with a “bizarre comic sensibility,” said Jed Rapfogel, film programmer for the Anthology Film Archive in New York, which celebrated Buba’s work in 2012.

Said Rapfogel:

“In a perfect world there would be a sizable portion of American cinema with a deep interest in the lives of working people. Tony is making the sorts of films I wish other people were making, but he doesn’t stint on the comedy, they’re not overly earnest, they reflect his charismatic personality, and yet they’re about things that are pretty tragic.”

The Scribe Video Center, 3908 Lancaster Ave., will screen Buba’s films 7 p.m. Thursday (“Struggles in Steel”), Friday (“Ghosts of Amistad”), and Saturday (“Ode to a Steel Town, We Are Alive!: The Fight to Save Braddock Hospital”). A Q&A will follow on Thursday’s and Friday’s screenings. Tickets are $5.