Manhattan’s Downtown Community Television Center celebrated the opening of the media arts center’s long-anticipated nonprofit, 67-seat movie theater, Firehouse: DCTV’s Cinema for Documentary Film, on Tuesday.
The only movie theater in New York City dedicated to screening documentaries, Firehouse is an official Academy Award-qualifying theater that will screen first-run films and curated programs.
On Sept. 23, Abigail Disney and Kathleen Hughes’ self-distributed “The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales” about the growing inequalities in America and better pay for Disneyland cast members, will be the inaugural docu to play at Firehouse cinema. The week-long screening will serve as the film’s qualifying run in New York. Disney is set to appear in person for opening weekend Q&As.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday, Disney said, “It takes courage to poke big Mouse in the eye, and you (Firehouse) are doing it right out of the gate.”
Located in a landmarked firehouse building in Manhattan’s Chinatown, Firehouse cinema was funded by New York state and city. The project was conceived over two decades ago and took approximately two years to complete.
Co-founded in 1972 by Academy Award-nominated docu filmmaker Jon Alpert (“Life of Crime 1984-2020”) and his wife, doc producer Keiko Tsuno, DCTV has supported documentary filmmakers for the last 50 years. The center dedicated to docs helps produce nonfiction projects and hosts community screenings, discussions, youth media, and continuing education programs.
“This is the temple for documentary filmmaking,” Alpert said at Tuesday’s ceremony. “Documentary films for years did not get the respect that they deserved. This is a moment when documentary films are flourishing, and this a place to meet with members of the documentary community to really honor all of the documentary filmmakers that we have.”
Alpert and Tsuno serve as the organization’s co-executive directors. Dara Messinger, DCTV’s long-time director of programming, will oversee the theater’s first-run and curated programming.
“I’m excited to champion all different types of filmmakers making new and exciting work,” said Messinger. “I want to diversify the amount of makers and different perspectives that we can be showing in the documentary. I love having a space where people can see things that they can’t see elsewhere. And even if they can see films we screen elsewhere, they can come here and be part of a community and share this space together.”
After screening “The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales,” Firehouse will host exclusive runs of first-run docs, including two Sundance 2022 nonfiction films: Reid Davenport’s “I Didn’t See You There,” about everyday life from the disabled filmmaker’s point of view, and Nina Menkes’ “Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power,” an examination of the male gaze through cinema history.
In addition to first-run films, Firehouse will also be curating specialty programming year-round. This fall will feature special events with documentary filmmakers, including Laura Poitras, Barbara Kopple, Stanley Nelson, and Jessica Kingdon. Also, this fall, a Firehouse-based series titled “Better Together” will showcase documentary short films from Vimeo and New York-based production houses including Field of Vision, and Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective.
Firehouse will be the official New York City host for the Intl. Documentary Association’s DocuClub, the organization’s work-in-progress screening series, as well as the IDA’s biennial Getting Real documentary conference.
Later in the year, in tribute to DCTV’s 50-year history, a “DCTV @ 50” repertory series will showcase DCTV’s productions, including early work from founders Alpert and Tsuno.
“The documentary form continues to evolve in new and exciting ways,” Messinger said. “The work we screen at Firehouse will showcase a plethora of perspectives that challenge power and ways of seeing and understanding.”