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For Diana Quiñones Rivera, Documentary Work Is Empowering

Written by on June 30, 2022

Diana Quiñones Rivera is a teacher, artist and documentarian who strives to showcase culture and inform others through film.

Originally from Puerto Rico, Diana Quiñones Rivera moved to Chicago from New York in 2015 seeking a more supportive scene for musicians and artists alike. After studying film in both Puerto Rico and London, Rivera found her calling in documentary work and focuses on music and dance in her work. 

“There’s a lot of support for musicians and composers,” she explained. “That’s why we’re here.”

After earning an MFA in Integrated Media Arts, Rivera completed a fellowship with Kartmquin Film’s Diverse Voices in Docs in 2016. She has had her film and photography work featured in Rolling Stone Magazine, American Songwriter and the Chicago Reader.

Diana outside of the Segundo Ruis Belvis Center, where she teaches film classes in the summer.
Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio, Chicago Public Media.

Some of Rivera’s most notable works highlight culture through dance. She has showcased her docuseries on Chicago-based dancer Darling Shear at the NewFest Film Festival in New York City as well as the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago. Her most recent work, Resistimos, showcases socio-economic issues in Puerto Rico through the frame of Bomba dance, a form of protest, education and self-reliance. 

“I think that documentaries have the power of informing people about their community, or there’s also the possibility of people telling their stories,” Rivera said. “It’s a way to empower voices that haven’t been heard before.”

An Edgewater resident, Rivera runs summer film classes as a teaching artist at the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center. Rivera is also in the process of creating a media center for the community. By providing accessible film classes in the summer, where students can get hands-on experience with film equipment, she hopes to pass on her passion to inform and create.

For this segment of “This is What Chicago Sounds Like,” Diana Quiñones Rivera walks us through her community film work and the intersection of documentary, dance, culture and social change.

Where are you from?

I’m from Puerto Rico, but I’ve been living in Chicago since 2015.

What brought you to Chicago?

My husband, he’s a musician and composer here and he had so much work happening in Chicago. So we just decided to come here and since then I’ve been connected with a lot of artists that I’ve been collaborating with and making films and music videos with them. There’s a lot of support for musicians and composers and you know, that’s why we’re here because there’s just like a lot of opportunities for artists to make their work.

¿Donde vives [where do you live]? What do you love about your neighborhood?

Yo vivo en Edgewater. I love going to the lake. It feels like I’m back home. And I put on my reggaetón and I drive around Lake Shore Drive, and it’s wonderful.

The yellow set in the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center is inspired by the streets of San Juan.
Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio, Chicago Public Media

How did you get into filmmaking? 

I started loving film as a little kid when I was watching Hollywood musicals with my mom who was a dancer. And so when I went to school, I started as a biology major but I switched because I was having trouble with those classes and eventually they said, “Yes, you could go ahead and study what you want to study,” because… it’s tough being the first person in your family to go to college. They wanted me to study something that I would make money through. And so eventually I was just being honest with them and being like, “I can’t do this,” you know, so I was able to study what I loved, which is film. And eventually I got together with some choreographers and found my passion for filming dance.

At University of Puerto Rico I studied film and literature, and then I studied filmmaking in London, England, and then I just started making a lot of film documentaries and New York when I was living there. And since I’ve been in Chicago, I’ve done a lot of documentaries, short promo videos and also a docu-series about a local dancer called Darling Shear. I’ve also been working as a teaching artist at Segundo Ruiz Belvis, teaching film, and now I’m in the process of building a media center for the community.

“If you build a campaign around the documentary, it has the possibility to impact communities for change.”

Diana Quiñones Rivera

What kind of documentary do you make? What do you focus on primarily, would you say and why?

In my work, I like to focus on music and dance. If you see my work, I do a lot of films about dancing and different types of dance, and the last one that I’ve made was a film in Puerto Rico that was about Bomba dance and how that music and dance is used for protest and to educate communities in self-reliance.

¿Como se llama la película [What is the name of the film]? What is it about?

La película se llama “Resistimos,” y está en YouTube. Bomba is an Afro Puerto Rican… traditional music and it came out of enslaved people in Puerto Rico that use the music to form escapes and revolts. People in Puerto Rico have continued dancing, singing, playing this music, and my documentary kind of documents the resurgence of this musical tradition. This music was prohibited for a long time, and because it comes from our Black descendants, there have been a lot of places where it has been shunned or… institutions that wouldn’t support this music. And because of those roots, it was really hard to maintain in our culture. I tie it to the oppressive situation that people are going through in Puerto Rico and how they’ve come back to their roots, their culture to kind of… express all of these things.

What is Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center, and what is the media center you’re working to create?

I’d say that Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center is one of those places that really celebrates Puerto Rican culture, Mexican culture, and I enjoyed working here. For the media center, our idea is to create a TV-studio-slash-film-space where we could train the community to use this space, to film all kinds of programming, and we have film classes, and all kinds of classes, this summer [which] youth get paid to take… 

And so we’re gonna start off with showing them how to use the cameras and the lights and all of these things, new things. We’re going to be installing the summer in the media center and, hopefully soon, we could have a strong program so that we could invite the community members to come in and, and learn how to, to shoot here and film in the center. 

What do you think is particularly important about documentary films and this type of work?

I think that documentaries have the power of informing people about their community or… there’s also the possibility of people telling their stories. I think that, for a lot of people, having a certain issue they might feel like, “I’m not alone” in… the things that they’re going through. Also documentaries have the power of impacting. Like, if you build a campaign around the documentary, it has the possibility to impact communities for change. Making documentaries, I’ve felt that it’s a way to empower voices that have not been heard before, or that have been… they haven’t been vocal ever about the things that they’ve seen or experienced.

Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio, Chicago Public Media

How has Chicago impacted you?

I’d say when I moved to Chicago it was hard. I had moved from New York, and New York had me in a trance. I really loved how, you know, you could walk down a street and get lost on those really small streets. And… they’re very magical. And eventually, throughout the years, I’ve realized as an adult this is the better city to be at, because there’s just… it’s like you could live better. There’s more, as I mentioned before, more support here for the arts and I find that having the lake right there is just such a wonderful addition to living here. I think I want to stay here for a very, very long time, because it’s also where I found this community of Puerto Ricans that are super supportive of the work that I’m doing. It’s just a great city.

Since 2016, we have been profiling people who give their all to Chicago — enriching us socially and culturally by virtue of their artistry, social justice work and community-building. Take a listen. Read their words. Become inspired.

Follow Diana’s work on her website and Twitter, and learn more about the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center here.

Interview, transcription and audio production by Ari Mejia

Transcript editing and photography by Morgan Ciocca

Introduction written by Makenzie Creden

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