VIFF premieres documentary Mixed Match

1004 VIFF 2016 Mixed Match. Documentary by Vancouver director Jeff Chiba Stearns looking at the unique challenges facing children of racially mixed parents who have rare blood diseases. [PNG Merlin Archive]


A rare disease diagnosis requiring a suitable bone marrow match to keep a child alive is something no parent ever wants to deal with. Yet many do.

In director Jeff Chiba Stearns’ documentary Mixed Match, the challenges that children of multiracial unions sometimes face finding compatible donors to fit their genetic markers and the issue of race in medicine is well explored. The Emmy-nominated and Webby Award-winning Vancouver director (One Big Hapa Family, 2010) is the co-founder of Vancouver’s annual Hapa-palooza Festival, Canada’s first and largest celebration of people with mixed ancestry that keeps growing.

A news report about the passing of a 23-year-old of Eurasian descent who was searching the global donor bank but unable to find a match in time sparked his interest in the Mixed Match subject matter. His film featuring live action and inventive animation took six years to complete.

“When you walk down the street in Vancouver, you see so many mixed-race families and children and the prediction is that will be the majority fairly soon,” said Stearns. “Tons of babies being born right now are born to mixed (parents) and, while rare blood diseases are thankfully rare, I thought we should do something to focus on the people stories. There are people searching now and desperate now.”

In searching out the unique stories, the director came into contact with the American-based Mixed Marrow organization which is trying to build mixed-race donor banks. He also profiles scientists working on the cutting edge of genetic science, aw well as racist trolls and some truly inspirational subjects such as Imani Cornelius. This spectacularly well-spoken, lively young woman in Wisconsin is as good a spokesperson as anyone could hope for to get more people onto a donor registry.

“We wanted a call to action. We wanted to cover all the angles. It’s controversial in so many ways how we talk about the racial language in medicine and beyond,” said Stearns. “But what we didn’t want was a two-hour PSA. We wanted the people like Imani to make the point.”

Mixed Match is more than a movie for Stearns. His own child’s birth becomes part of the awareness-raising in the film. The tagline for the film says it all: “When being mixed race is more than just an identity, it’s a matter of life and death.”