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What Harlem Wants, the Maysles Cinema Gets

From rooftop films to free concerts in nearly every park, New York offers a bounty of reasons to leave the buzz of your apartment’s air conditioning this summer. One small, 55-person movie theater adds to the mix by bringing a wide range of documentaries and classic cinema to Harlem.

In conjunction with programs that teach neighborhood youth how to shoot documentaries, the Maysles Cinema screens films about everything from the civil rights era to reggae and hip hop stars from Harlem. Community members and groups like the Black Panthers and National Jazz Museum of Harlem have input on what is shown at the theater, which is named after the documentarian who directed Gimme Shelter (about the Rolling Stones) and Grey Gardens. 

The Cinema's namesake Albert Maysles moved to Harlem with his wife five years ago, and opened the theater to inspire and engage the people in his new neighborhood. Post-film question-and-answer sessions often become lively discussions relevant to life in Harlem and address issues ranging from the controversial expansion of Columbia University to the effects of children's advocacy through Harlem Children's Zone.

The small screening room of the cinema is often full, but visitors who watch from the lounge can see the venue's namesake in action — Maysles films the Q-and-A sessions himself.

For residents of Harlem with few local options to see a movie, the cinema will sponsor a series of free music documentaries, accompanied by musical performances, in Morningside Park. Next week, for instance, the First Corinthians Baptist Church Choirs will perform before a screening of the 1982 gospel documentary Say Amen, Somebody.