Eric Porterfield came to Buffalo in search of his ancestor in the dead of winter. His great-uncle, Wilbur Porterfield, was a prominent Buffalo photographer in the early 20th century who turned the city’s landscape into art. Eric and his wife made Buffalo a quick getaway one weekend to track down Wilbur’s grave and research the man whose photos were twice exhibited in the then-Albright Art Gallery.
But it was the city that captured their hearts during a walk on their first night in town. “It was freezing,” Eric recalled last week, “but we fell in love with the place.”
Fast-forward two years, and the Porterfields now spend just about every weekend house hunting in Buffalo as they prepare to move Porterfield’s film company from State College, Pa., to Buffalo to join forces with filmmaker John Paget for a two-year project to tell the story of Buffalo’s emerging revival for a feature-length documentary.
You could view Porterfield’s move to Buffalo as a big bet that the city’s renaissance is going to stick. He’s not just planning to peer in with a camera, after all, but is looking to set down roots. But Porterfield doesn’t see it that way. He was drawn to Buffalo by something less calculated.
“The first thing was just a real positive visceral reaction to the city that we both had,” Porterfield said. “We were surprised by that, because Buffalo is very maligned.”
It doesn’t hurt that Buffalo looks like a living back lot to Porterfield, a writer and producer whose most recent documentary, “365 Days: A Year in Happy Valley,” chronicled the Penn State community.
Porterfield and Paget see a great comeback story in Buffalo – one full of drama, conflict and plenty of characters that they’re convinced will have national interest. And they’re hoping you’ll contribute to help get their project off the ground through a Kickstarter campaign to raise the first $50,000.
“Buffalo’s the ultimate underdog city,” Paget said. “We’re going to tell the history and the present struggles in Buffalo, and look to the future and what might happen.”
Paget is known for a series of glowing promotional videos he shot for Visit Buffalo Niagara, including “Buffalo: This Place Matters,” which featured sunset-bathed architecture and striking shots of city neighborhoods. Those videos played a big part in breaking the mindset of a city that had long seen itself as down-and-out.
Paget believes that his latest project will do just as much to promote the city. But neither he nor Porterfield expects the project to be the type of marketing piece that glosses over the work that needs to be done to address the city’s poverty, schools and other challenges.
That’s evident from the moment you hear the title. “Buffalo Hates You, Too: A Love Story” is a take on a popular one-liner that has taken hold in a city tired of being a punchline.
“It’s inherently funny because I don’t think anybody really believes that people in Buffalo hate anybody,” said Paget, who made Buffalo his home a decade ago. “We’re essentially a city of good neighbors.”
“It’s the great American hometown,” he later adds.
Ten years ago, we might not have been ready for a no-holds-barred view of where we’ve been and where we’re headed. Today, we can’t tell the world fast enough.