Listen to El Mariachi Infante perform!
Last night in the Greene Space, Leonard spoke with award-winning journalist Jon Alpert and four young filmmakers from Downtown Community Television Center, who also screened excerpts from documentaries they made in the DCTV's youth media training program. And El Mariachi Infante, a mariachi band featured in one of the films, performed.
Alpert and his wife Keiko Tsuno founded DCTV in 1972 out of the back of a used mail truck. He told Leonard that during a budget crisis in 1978, when arts, music, and sports, were being cut from public schools, he was inspired to provide a new creative outlet for kids. So, in the midst of traveling to Cuba and Vietnam to film documentaries, Alpert and DCTV began its youth media training program.
Today the program is stationed in on Lafayette St. in Chinatown and has served over 50,000 kids, many of whom could not afford a media arts education otherwise. The four young filmmakers who joined Alpert last night—Natalie Setoute, Richard Memminger, Sandra Appiah, and Rosalino Ramos—are all alumni of a two-year program with DCTV and are all pursuing further education and careers in filmmaking.
DCTV’s mission is to “foster diverse viewpoints by providing professional training, state-of-the-industry resources, and by creating outstanding documentary productions, with the belief that diversity of expression strengthens our democracy and enhances civil society.” Leonard’s discussion with the young filmmakers showed how the program works--by giving teenagers a chance to express themselves by turning a lens on their own lives. The films told personal stories about struggling with self-image, the legacy of drug abuse, realizing other cultures share many of the same values and challenges as we do, and how music is passed down from generation to generation in one family.
Natalie Setoute’s film, The Skin I’m In, told her own story of being diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and her struggles with self-image. She told Leonard that filmmaking at DCTV gradually inspired her self-confidence and she is currently taking media and technology classes at Bronx Community College.
Sandra Appiah’s film documented a trip to Thailand. She titled her film Reflections of Thailand because, she said, she traveled around the world and saw a reflection of herself in the Thai people. She told Leonard that in Thailand she realized that there were people struggling everywhere.
Dependent by Richard Memminger was a biography about growing up with parents addicted to crack and his mother’s battle with cancer. He spoke openly with Leonard about how the crack epidemic changed his—and many of his classmates’—lives and his realization that he can only dependend on himself. Memminger said he was captivated by documentaries he saw on HBO late at night when he was growing up. He realized when he joined the filmmaking program that Jon Alpert had made many of those films.
Rosalino Ramos's documentary, El Mariachi Infante, is about how Mariachi music helps his family keep their Mexican heritage alive in Harlem. The night ended with a live performance by the the band El Mariachi Infante, with several encores. The multi-talented John Alpert joined them on trumpet.