British Columbia

Filmmaker Barbara Chirinos celebrates black history month with VIFF film series

The filmmaker behind VIFF Celebrates Black History Month says she wants her film series to not just be for black Vancouverites, but to show how we all are part of a common history.

'This was a real opportunity to ... show the way we have participated in the history of the world'

Barbara Chirinos moved to Vancouver from New York City and in 2012 and created the VIFF Black History Month film series. (Liam Britten/CBC)

This piece is part of On The Coast's Black History Month series, "Race, Roots and Relocation: Delving into B.C.'s Black History." Check back at every day this week for more stories from B.C.'s black community.

When filmmaker Barbara Chirinos moved to Vancouver from New York City, she found a gap in the city's film festivals: there was no celebration of black history.

So she started a series of her own, and VIFF Celebrates Black History Month in now in its fifth year.

This year, the festival explores issues around race, roots, and relocation, from the 1967 race riots in Montreal, to the African roots of tango, to the migrant crisis in Europe.

The festival opened Tuesday evening, but before the first films began showing, Chirinos stopped by CBC Vancouver for an interview with On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko.

In 2012, you created the VIFF Black History Month film series. And one of the first films you showed was a documentary about Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Why that film?

What an amazing woman, known as the "Godmother of Rock 'n' Roll." She was playing the electric guitar back in the '40s. She was appreciated and loved by Eric Clapton, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley.

When we discovered the documentary, it was definitely something we had to bring to Vancouver. And it exploded when it was on the screen. Young girls who had an opportunity to see the film with their parents came out of the theatre saying "I've always wanted to play the guitar, but I haven't seen anyone that looks like me doing it. I didn't realize someone who looked like me could play the electric guitar."

What did you learn that first year about how important it is to understand and to share stories about black history?

It was important to bring those films here, but not only for the black people living here, but for everyone. Because black history is world history, it is all part of our history, we share it. It's just that many acknowledgements and contributions of people of colour, people who are black, are not necessarily brought to the forefront as frequently as some of the sadder stories or some of the more tragic stories.

So in terms of a film festival, I thought this was a real opportunity to bring stories that show our contributions, our acknowledgements, our real stories, and show the way we have participated in the history of the world.

Speaking of sadder stories, this year's VIFF celebration opens with a rather timely film about African migrants. What conversation do you hope to provoke with this particular film?

I am an immigrant. I am from New York City. This city is filled with immigrants from all over the world. But particularly when you see immigrants who are migrants, refugees of colour, people have their own ideas of who that person is.

What this film helps to show are backstories of people who've come here on their own, or they were forced to, or because of horrible situations where they lived. They're doctors, or truck drivers, or professors, or students or warriors, just like we have here. All we have to do is get to know the person. What the film helps to do is spread that so people know they can relate to another person, regardless of the colour of their skin.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview, click the audio labelled: 'Black history is world history' says curator of VIFF Celebrates Black History Month


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