Documentary Community Television Center opens new theater in Chinatown after 20 years

Sandy Kenyon Image
Tuesday, October 18, 2022
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Streaming has brought many more documentaries into our homes, but the group believes that them being in a theater can make these films even more effective. Sandy Kenyon has the story.

NEW YORK -- A New York institution is celebrating its 50th anniversary by opening a new theater devoted exclusively to showing documentaries.

The Downtown Community Television Center has provided a home for those who want to make non-fiction films since 1972. Its headquarters is located in an old firehouse on Lafayette Street.

Since the fire department left more than half a century ago, the landmarked structure has been put to great use by documentary filmmaker Jon Alpert.

"We are do-it-ourselves people," said the co-founder of DCTV during a recent visit. "We built this theater. We built it for the documentary community, and we want everyone to come and enjoy it."

The opening of the new theater was a realization of a 20-year dream.

It's the latest chapter in a story that began when Alpert and his wife, Keiko Tsuno, founded DCTV in Chinatown.

"We showed our films from an old mail truck. I bought it for $5," Alpert said. "We put a black and white TV in the side of it and we showed it on the street corner."

Alpert said their efforts paid off in tangible ways for the community.

"All around the neighborhood, when you wave the documentary wand over things, they change," Alpert said. "This has always been our inspiration."

Showing films was part of their mission, making them was another.

"Education has been at the forefront of our organization here," said Dara Messinger, who came to DCTV as an intern in 2005 and now serves as Director of Programming. "We have free youth media programs. We have affordable, Continuing Ed programs so anyone can come here to learn filmmaking."

Streaming has brought many more documentaries into our homes, but the folks here believe them being in a theater can make these films even more effective.

"When you see things on the big screen, they're more powerful," Alpert said. "And when you view them in common, you can talk about the issues; and then you can do things to change them so we want this theater to be the catalyst that continues to improve our neighborhood."

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