YVR Screen Scene founder Sabrina Rani Furminger is unashamedly “woke”.
“I would much rather be awake to what is going on because then I can check myself and my blind spots,” Furminger tells Pancouver over Zoom.
And she likes featuring a wide range of woke voices on her podcasts posted on the YVR Screen Scene website. In fact, Furminger thinks that the word woke has been taken over by right-wing “nutjobs”, who despise efforts to dismantle white supremacy.
“So when they’re saying I’m ‘woke’, they’re saying I care about other people,” she declares.
Now in her 40s, Furminger has emerged as a rallying point for progressive thought and actions in the Vancouver film and television industry. After founding YVR Screen Scene in 2018, she’s leveraged it in recent years to support Ukrainian children and COVID-19 relief in India.
In addition, she has recorded 274 podcasts, including a three-part series called Reel Talk About Race in B.C. Film.
It featured documentarian Joella Cabalu, producer Kashif Pasta, and director of photography and filmmaker Andy Hodgson speaking frankly in 2021 about discrimination in the industry.
“I think that people who aren’t from a marginalized community might not understand—and often don’t understand—how traumatizing and retraumatizing a lot of these conversations can be,” Furminger says.
She emphasizes that she created YVR Screen Scene to generate appreciation for Vancouver’s film and television industry around the world. It has also provided a platform for Black actors and directors, such as Rukiya Bernard and Omari Newton, to share their thoughts in writing about racial justice.
Several podcasts have also touched on racial issues, such as the #StopAsianHate episode with actor and director Mayumi Yoshida.
Furminger amplifies “woke” voices
For those who want to be allies of BIPOC communities, Furminger advises them to “learn to sit in their discomfort” as these conversations are taking place.
“When we talk about white supremacy, it’s not coded language for me calling everybody racist or my guests calling people racists,” she emphasizes. “We’re talking about structures that were built in the colonial landscape.”
A recent podcast featured Aliza Vellani, who plays Rani Singh on Netflix’s Sweet Tooth. Vellani, who’s from Vancouver, was also part of the Little Mosque on the Prairie cast.
“There are people who might be in communities where they don’t know any Muslim people—or don’t think that they do,” Furminger says. “But they watch Little Mosque and then all of the sudden, they know Muslim people… I like to show a wide range of voices—woke voices, I guess—and I’ll own that.”
In addition to covering the racial reckoning, Furminger has devoted attention to the Me Too movement within the B.C. film and television industry. She likes to say that her podcast helps people get to know their neighbours so that they will stand up and stand with them when it counts.
It’s certainly how she lives her life. As the daughter of a mother of Ukrainian ancestry and a father raised in India, Furminger feels like she’s part of two diasporas. She compares this to being like a seed or petal that is scattered to a new location. Yet her roots stem from somewhere else.
“I navigate through the world not as a white person,” Furminger says. “My husband is a person of colour. My daughter is a person of colour.”
Responding to India’s COVID crisis
Her family history gives her a global outlook. That’s influenced how she leverages YVR Screen Scene to help others in need.
In April of 2021, family members in India told her about the devastating impact of COVID-19. Because there were so many funeral pyres, the stench of death was in the air.
“I was just horrified because there was a desperate need for oxygen,” Furminger recalls. “There were all of these super-spreader events that were being championed by the people in charge in India.”
She sees a gruesome irony in this. At the time, India was producing vaccines for the developing world. However these very same life-saving interventions were not going into arms of hundreds of millions of Indians.
So Furminger decided to do something about it. She contacted Vancouver actors of South Asian ancestry to see if they would participate in an online benefit. She modelled it on the talk show Inside the Actors Studio. And revenue from ticket sales went to organizations addressing COVID-19 in India.
“Everybody I asked said ‘yes’, which was incredible,” she says. “I think we raised around $9,000.”
That set the stage for more ambitious charitable initiatives.
When Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Furminger knew right away that she wanted to help the victims. She worked with a local voice actor of Ukrainian ancestry, Adrian Petriw, to organize a fundraising event at the VIFF Centre to auction off memorabilia.
“People want to help but not everybody had the bandwidth or the time or the expertise to put on a gala and an auction,” she says. “But maybe they can buy a ticket. Maybe they can donate some signed DVDs for an auction.”
Funds support grieving Ukrainian kids
More fundraisers followed, including a master class in directing with Yoshida. There was also a second gala in 2023. It coincided with the screening of Ukrainian director Khrystyna Syvolap’s Viddana.
Syvolap had fled her country after the Russians invaded, rushing with millions of other Ukrainians to Poland. She came to Vancouver in the hope of recharging her filmmaking career. Syvolap shared her story of being a refugee in Episode 227 of the YVR Screen Scene podcast.
Over the past year-and-a-half, Furminger says that she and Petriw have raised $88,0000.
Initially, the money went to a humanitarian fund run by the Canada-Ukraine Foundation. Now, fundraising efforts support the Ukrainian Canadian Advocacy Group’s Rehabilitation Program for the Children of Fallen Heroes. It provides trauma therapy for grieving children, taking them on peaceful two-week retreats in the Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains.
“These are kids from throughout Ukraine whose parents have either been killed in battle or their parents have been basically kidnapped by Russia,” Furminger explains. “They are POWs. We don’t know where they are.”
So far, this organization, which is run by Ukrainian Canadians and completely funded by private donations, has assisted 140 kids. The retreat happens to be in the same region as Furminger’s ancestral homeland on her mother’s side.
She’s certainly not the first person in her family to devote so much time to community affairs. Her Ukrainian-Canadian grandparents and great-grandparents helped build the first labour temples in Quebec.
Moreover, her recently deceased maternal grandmother, Helen Kiperchuk, was a dynamic community activist. According to her obituary, Kiperchuk publicly championed abortion rights alongside Dr. Henry Morgentaler, hosted talk shows, wrote freelance articles, and served as editor of the Humanist in Canada Magazine.
Hindi songs and a Star Trek autograph
Her father, also lived through tumultuous times. When he was a baby, his family had to flee his birthplace of Lahore when it ended up on the Pakistan side of the border following Partition. Furminger only found out in her 40s that her dad’s family lived in a refugee camp on the outskirts of Delhi for a couple of years. He later moved to the U.K. before immigrating to Canada in the early 1970s.
“He was really keen to not raise us ‘Indian’, you know,” Furminger says. “His name is Anil, but he got rid of his accent. He would introduce himself as Neil. He didn’t really watch a lot of Indian movies.”
However, she was still able to absorb Indian culture when she would go on really long walks with her father through the West Island suburbs of Montreal.
“He would sing Hindi songs,” Furminger recalls. “So I did learn some songs through that. I’ve tried to pass them on to my child who is Indian and Ukrainian and Filipino and English. She carries all those cultures in her blood.”
As a child and teenager, Furminger was obsessed with film and television, and particularly, science fiction. In Grade 8, she collected a signed photo of Brent Spiner, who played Mr. Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
“It’s very trendy to collect Star Wars and Star Trek things now,” Furminger says. “I was doing it when it wasn’t trendy.”
She took the photo to school, thinking that her classmates would be impressed that Spiner had written to her. Instead, she was bullied.
“Man, that was a rough time,” Furminger says.
Furminger follows heart to Vancouver
Her love of reading and writing led her to Queen’s University.
“I chose English literature so I could spend four years reading books,” she remarks cheerfully. “And then I was news editor at the Queen’s Journal, which was an amazing experience.”
She was in this position on September 11, 2001, when four planes were highjacked over the skies of the United States. Two were flown into the World Trade Center in New York City, turning the twin towers into rubble and killing nearly 3,000 people. Another plane crashed into the Pentagon whereas the fourth was brought down by passengers before it could reach its target.
“We put out a special paper,” Furminger says. “I had sent a team out to the military college, a team to the border, and to talk to the American student union.”
While it was exhilarating to do this work, she also realized that she wasn’t cut out for this type of hard-news reporting.
“I could feel my organs giving out on me through this day,” she reveals.
She followed her boyfriend and future husband, Paul, to Vancouver in 2002. There, she did some freelance writing before working as the communications manager for Kokoro Dance for five years.
“Honestly, that’s when everything changed for me because I fell in love with this city,” Furminger says.
She came to appreciate the works of artists and the sacrifices that they made to hold a mirror up to society. Later, she did some publicity work for the Powell Street Festival.
In 2016, Sabrina Rani Furminger won Women in Film & Television Vancouver’s Thunderbird Iris Award.
Leveraging YVR Screen Scene
Eventually, Furminger concluded that this could only take her so far. She yearned to express herself by telling her own stories. That led her to start writing about the local film and television industry for the West Ender community paper, earning her an award from Women in Film & Television Vancouver (now called Gender Equity in Media Society Vancouver).
She had good insights into the beat because her husband was working in visual effects.
“Now, he directs video-game cinematics and animated television,” Furminger says.
When Glacier Media shut down the West Ender in late 2017, Furminger quickly registered an Internet domain for YVR Screen Scene. Just over a month later, she launched it as an online publication.
Later, she started doing podcasts in office space that she and her husband have rented on Granville Island for their family business.
While she and Paul had donated to various charities over the years, Furminger only realized during the pandemic that she could leverage YVR Screen Scene for worthwhile causes.
Initially, she thought about putting on a telethon. Then, she decided instead that it would be more practical to produce the online show for COVID-19 relief in India.
“That was so easy for me to do,” Furminger states. “It’s just talk, but also event planning, promotion, [and] bringing people together.”
She concedes that there’s something addictive about helping.
“Once you see what kind of power you have to make an impact, you can’t stop,” she says. “You have to keep doing it because you know that you’re capable of it.”
Watch Sabrina Rani Furminger’s chat with Ukrainian director Khrystyna Syvolap.