How the Head of a Filmmaking Center Spends His Sundays

In the late 1960s, Jon Alpert conspired with his neighbor, Keiko Tsuno, to start making short films that tackled certain conditions and issues in Chinatown that they wanted to change. Making the documentaries “was like waving a magic wand,” he said. “We began winning the fights and realized the power we had.”

They also realized they had power as a couple. Mr. Alpert and Ms. Tsuno married in 1971 and the following year founded the Downtown Community Television Center, a community hub that produces award-winning documentaries and offers screenings and classes.

More than five decades later, their organization, which is inside of a renovated firehouse, is still thriving. Some 10,000 high school students have taken free documentary filmmaking classes there, said Mr. Alpert, a renowned director and producer himself. “Having a camera in my hands transformed a nebbish into someone who could make New York into a better place,” he said. “To help others do the same is important to us.”

Mr. Alpert, 74, also lives in the firehouse, on the western edge of Chinatown, with his dog, a Barbet named Sager. Ms. Tsuno, 78, visits them every week from her home in northern New Jersey, or sometimes they will visit her. “She translates news broadcasts at 4 a.m. and sends them to Japan,” he said. “We both keep odd hours.”

BORING BUT HEALTHY By 8 or 9 a.m., the annoying alarm that came with my iPhone goes off. My routine changed in February because I stopped alcohol, caffeine and dairy. Normally, I would have drunk a strong beer before I went to bed and made an espresso in the morning. It’s boring now but healthier. I’m past thinking I’m indestructible.

ROOF CHASE During the pandemic, we got a puppy. He’s a newly recognized breed called Barbet. There were 60 in the States. I had to call Frank in France — he’s king of the Barbets. I went to pick Sager up in April 2021, once the lockdown lifted. We go up to our roof deck for 20 minutes, which is waterproof, and the surface works surprisingly well for using a hockey stick to fling balls so Sager can chase them.

LACE UP I’m a rink rat. I love ice hockey, but I’m not very good. If I’m not playing at the Staten Island Skating Pavilion, I’m in New Jersey by 9:30 a.m. driving in my white Tesla with Sager. Depending upon the day, I might play at Skylands Ice World or Coventry Farms, which is on my friend’s farm. I’m the oldest player. I can’t say I like that. I’m refusing to get my hip done. After we play, everyone grabs a drink. It’s a moment of friendship.

PAPA JONNY I’m in the car by 1 p.m. and usually drive to one of my grandchildren’s soccer games. My daughter, Tami, has three children, and they each play at a different place at the same time. I’ve become Papa Jonny. My father was gone by 6 a.m. and didn’t get home from work until 11 p.m. Once in a while he would come to one of my games. It was important to me. I like sharing this with them. I try to be fair and rotate so everyone gets a turn. If there’s time, we all get something to eat afterward.

‘LIKE IN THE OLD DAYS’ By 5 p.m., I meet with fellow Chinatown residents and a local councilman at the firehouse on how to fight the new jail the government is planning on building if they close Rikers. It’s been opposed by everyone in the community for four years. We are not fighting the jail but the 40-story monstrosity they want to build 90 feet from the firehouse. We’re making a movie about it, like in the old days.

SCREENING The theater is popping on Sundays with the documentary community because we do a screening at 7 p.m. The filmmaker could be there to talk about the film. All of the nominated Academy Award documentaries played here. Most recently I saw “How Do You Measure a Year?” It was nominated for best short doc. I really liked it. The filmmaker put his daughter on the same couch on her birthday, at the same time, for 17 years. It captured the beauty of youth and the torments of “teenagership.” I also liked “Navalny: The Man Putin Couldn’t Kill.” It’s about his life and the people who tried to kill him.

MORE EXERCISE I go to the basement with Sager where there’s exercise equipment I’ve assembled. There’s a weight lifting and elliptical machine, a recumbent bicycle, a heavy bag, a punching dummy and a makiwara, which is a punching board that focuses your punching and turns your hands into bricks. I bike for an hour, then use the rest of the equipment. I also throw balls for Sager to chase.

HORN I go back upstairs — or if Keiko is sleeping, I go in the car — and play my trumpet. I can’t read music but I’m not a bad improviser. I get to play with the best musicians in the world because it’s my playlist from my iPhone. They would be horrified at what I’ve done to their music. Last night, I played “Baby, Baby, Baby” by Delbert McClinton four times in a row. I was getting better each time, but there aren’t any witnesses so it’s hard to say. I sometimes use the app Smule, which lets me play an artist’s arrangement while making adjustments to the acoustics, so I sound better than I am. I might send that to friends, and they can sing along. This became popular during the pandemic.

MIX AND MATCH By 12:30 a.m., I have something to eat. Food has become less material. I used to go to Sun Sai Gai on Canal or Di Palo’s on Grand Street. Now I just like combining a lot of things that don’t belong together like Chinese food, spaghetti sauce and dill pickles from The Pickle Guys. They taste good together and have a variety of textures. Then I look at my phone, shower and stretch my busted body parts.

WHITE NOISE I’m unable to put aside my constantly going brain, unless I’m distracted, and the BBC does the trick. It plays on the phone next to my bed and it tells me what’s happened from a British perspective. It’s my white noise. By the third news cycle, I’m out.

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