An Independent Filmmaker at the Firehouse |

An Independent Filmmaker at the Firehouse |

By Francisco Bello | September 26, 2012

I came to know DCTV as many New York based filmmakers do. I’d attended some panels hosted by groups like IFP. I’d rented gear on the 2nd floor for some local shoots. I walked by the firehouse and marveled at the architecture of that old building flanked by drab government buildings to the south, and the kinetic energy of Canal Street to the north. In those days I honestly didn’t think much of it beyond its existence as a part of the landscape of other filmmaker co-ops and such groups, sadly, most of which are no longer around today. DCTV was certainly alive and kicking, that much I could tell from these brush encounters. But that changed when I ended up forming a closer relationship with DCTV and its team.

Along with one of my filmmaking partners, Tim Sternberg, we were commissioned by HBO Documentary Films to make a piece about a salsa dance school in Spanish Harlem, Santo Rico. Tim and I being sort of “rookies” in the HBO stable of doc producers, Sheila Nevins thought that Tim and I would work well with some of her regulars, Jon Alpert and Matt O’Neill. And so we set up an office in the atrium with Matt, Jon, Shannon Sonenstein, Reina Higashitani, a fireman’s pole and a stable of dogs of various sizes (Big Al being the biggest of them all – may he rest in peace). A few months later, Tim, Jon, Matt and I came out with the film, “El Espíritu de la Salsa.” Jon was, and is, a force of nature; Matt whip smart and diligent. We became friends and together made a fun little movie.

While the salsa film was wrapping, I was being brought back into the final round of work on another film I had been producing and editing with another filmmaking partner, Rebecca Richman Cohen. That movie, “War Don Don,” had been in the making for over two years at the time, and we needed to get back to the final round of editing. So for the sake of convenience (and probably my sanity) Rebecca and I set up an edit suite on DCTV’s 2nd floor. I would split my time between the production office upstairs for salsa, and the edit of “War Don Don” below. I got a lot of exercise running up and down the stairs. It was a hard film to make, but “War Don Don” ended up having quite a run. This was certainly aided by the ease with which we were able to work on our edit at DCTV in those final challenging (aren’t they always?) weeks of work.

Rebecca and I ended up coming back to DCTV for the final round of editing our next film, “Code of the West.” DCTV was familiar territory by this point, and we were able to get the same room we’d used for “War Don Don,” an accommodation that was greatly appreciated. Cutting a film is an exercise in the unknown, so any way to sneak in a little bit of the familiar into the process is a big deal to me. After an emotional production full or tragic twists and turns, “Code of the West” continues its festival run to this date, and has had some unexpectedly positive effects in the lives of one of its main characters, medical marijuana lobbyist and former business owner Tom Daubert (you can learn more at the film’s website:, in the News tab).

I’m not sure how many folks have been able to experience DCTV as both a producing partner and as an editorial client, but what I’ve learned makes DCTV what it is, is the people that work there. I’ve worked in a bunch of shops over the years, but what makes this place different is the level of passion you feel in the air. Between the youth media education programs, edit suites, professional development courses and rentals on the second floor, to the screening room, and production offices on the third floor and atrium, it’s hard to believe there’s so much going on in that old firehouse. I hope DCTV continues to do what it’s done for the past 40 years, and I’m grateful to have been (even a tiny) part of it.

If only they could put that fireman’s pole to better use…

Support and celebrate 40 years of filmmaking at DCTV’s 40th Anniversary Celebration on October 11th!