For the past dozen years, the nonprofit Maysles Documentary Center (MDC) has dedicated its Harlem location to highlighting the art of documentary filmmaking to provoke dialogue and action, first as an education program and four years later as an exhibition space. According to Cinema Director Jessica Green, it was a vision firmly embraced by late cinema legend Albert Maysles, who created the center back in 2005 along with his wife Gillian Walker.
“The idea with a space like this is to create a third space where newcomers and old-timers can come together and be neighbors and through documentaries, can experience the themes, issues and discussions that are very often directly related to people’s everyday lives,” Green explained.
With an annual budget of about a half-million dollars, the MDC got its start via a summer education program for youth whose parents were incarcerated and were taught how to shoot documentaries so they could tell their stories. Eventually, the MDC created low or no-cost education programs that range from film literacy classes for children and filmmaking for high school students to intro and advanced filmmaking and editing for adults and a cinema management job training program for Harlem residents.
The exhibition portion of the MDC is going into its ninth year and features a 2,000-square foot, 55-seat cinema that was recently renovated with Dolby Surround Sound and a Digital Cinema Package (DCP) and can be rented out to raise money for the MDC’s multitude of programs. It serves a crucial role as part of Harlem’s community fabric. The MDC has also teamed up with other institutions including City College, the Museum of the City of New York and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to curate and provoke conversations about myriad past and present social subjects.
Most recently, filmmaker Iris Morales, the first female member of the Young Lords, screened her 1996 documentary Palante Siempre Palante! The Young Lords, and then discussed that particular era along with her new book Through the Eyes of Rebel Women. It’s in keeping with Maysles’ mindset that Green and her compatriots are intent on preserving.
“We want to inspire neighbors to take action in their communities and see themselves as neighbors despite their differences and the different way they come to the table,” Green said. “With rapid hyper-gentrification, you have a level of upheaval and displacement and there needs to be spaces where people can be neighbors and learn how to live together. There are a lot of spaces that do this. We’re just one small part of that.”
The Maysles Center is located at 343 Lenox Ave. in Manhattan. Visit www.maysles.org or call 212-537-6843 to find out more about the Maysles Center.