Opening of the Firehouse Theater dedicated to documentary films in New York

The Midtown Manhattan Community Television Center celebrated the opening of the media arts center’s 67-seat nonprofit theater, Firehouse: DCTV’s Cinema for Documentary Film, on Tuesday.

The only theater in New York City dedicated to showing documentaries, Firehouse is an official Oscar-eligible theater that will screen first-run films and curated programs.

On Sept. 23, Abigail Disney and Kathleen Hughes’ self-released “The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales,” about America’s growing inequality and improved pay for Disneyland cast members, will be the first docu to play at the Firehouse cinema. The week-long screening will serve as the film’s qualifying run in New York. Disney is expected to appear in person for the weekend Q&A opener.

Abigail Disney, Jon Alpert and Kathleen Hughes attend the Firehouse DCTV Documentary Film Cinema Dedication Ceremony. (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)

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At a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday, Disney said, “It takes courage to poke a big mouse in the eye, and you (Firehouse) do it from the start.”

Located in an iconic fire station in Manhattan’s Chinatown, the Firehouse Cinema was funded by the state and the city of New York. The project was conceived more than two decades ago and lasted about two years.

Co-founded in 1972 by Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Jon Alpert (“Life of Crime 1984-2020”) and his wife, documentary producer Keiko Tsuno, DCTV has been supporting documentary filmmakers for 50 years. The documentary center helps produce non-fiction projects and hosts community screenings, discussions, youth media and continuing education programs.

“It’s the temple of documentary cinema,” Alpert said at Tuesday’s ceremony. “For years, documentaries didn’t get the respect they deserved. It’s a time when documentary films flourish, and it’s a place to meet members of the documentary community to truly honor all the documentary filmmakers we have.

Alpert and Tsuno are the co-executive directors of the organization. Dara Messinger, DCTV’s longtime programming director, will oversee the theater’s first-run and curated programming.

“I’m thrilled to champion all the different types of filmmakers doing new and exciting work,” Messinger said. “I want to diversify the number of creators and the different perspectives that we can show in the documentary. I like having a space where people can see things they can’t see anywhere else. And even though they can see films that we show 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 first-run documentary series, including two Sundance 2022 non-fiction films: Reid Davenport’s “I Didn’t See You There,” on the daily life from the perspective of the disabled filmmaker, and Nina Menkes’ “Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power”, an examination of the male gaze through the history of cinema.

In addition to first-run films, Firehouse will also host specialty programming throughout the year. This fall will feature special events with documentarians including Laura Poitras, Barbara Kopple, Stanley Nelson and Jessica Kingdon. Additionally, this fall, a Firehouse-based series titled “Better Together” will feature documentary shorts from Vimeo and New York-based production houses including Field of Vision and Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective.

Firehouse will be the official New York host for the Intl. The Documentary Association’s DocuClub, the organization’s work-in-progress screening series, as well as IDA’s biennial Getting Real documentary conference.

Later this year, in homage to DCTV’s 50-year history, a ‘DCTV @ 50’ directory series will feature DCTV productions, including the early work of founders Alpert and Tsuno.

“Documentary form continues to evolve in new and exciting ways,” Messinger said. “The work we project at Firehouse will present a plethora of perspectives that challenge power and ways of seeing and understanding.”

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