As preparations buzz in the background, Leo Awards president Walter Daroshin says he’s gazing at a picture of the late local great Babz Chula, who died on May 7.
“Babz, of course, was very influential and the matriarch of our community in many, many ways, and everybody certainly in my circle has fond memories and has had wonderful experiences with her as a human being,” he says on the line while chatting about the 12th annual Leo Awards, the yearly accolades for B.C.’s film and television industries set for Friday and Saturday (June 4 and 5) at the Westin Bayshore. “But you know, from the Leo Award prism, she deserves recognition for no other reason than she’s been on our stage more than any other single person.”
Beloved local actor Chula graced the gala 10 out of 11 years, missing the 2007 event due to chemotherapy.
“Even behind the scenes, she was on our juries, she participated in advisory councils,” he adds. A special audio-visual presentation as part of Saturday evening’s program will pay tribute to the indie queen.
Although it is a celebration of artistic achievement, more sombre notes are to be found in the decreasing number of British Columbian productions. “Two years ago, we had 23 features films, for example, entered in our feature-length drama category,” Daroshin says. “This year we only had 14.” On a brighter note, the number of short films doubled, to 38 entries.
The annual Leo Awards Film Festival, which showcases nominated works for public viewing, was cancelled this year. “With the economy and everything, our budgets are put under pressure, so we just had to look at what kinds of things we need to do to rationalize our decreasing budgets,” Leo Awards producer Sonny Wong explains by phone. “While everyone told us how much they thought the film festival was good for the community and for local production, it just never really attracted the amount of audience that we would have expected.”
Nonetheless, the optimistic outlook must go on and Wong says the festival may be relaunched in the future, as the event continues to evolve from its industry-oriented roots to become more mainstream accessible with elements such as the glamourous red carpet.
Stars that will be in attendance include Erin Karpluk (Being Erica), Kristin Kreuk, Lou Diamond Phillips, Michael Eklund, Amanda Tapping (Sanctuary), and Jodelle Ferland (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse). Nominees include Heartland’s Graham Wardle, The Thaw’s Aaron Ashmore and Steph Song, and Cole’s Sonja Bennett. Friday’s proceedings, which focus on technical categories, will be hosted by Ellie Harvie (Stargate SG-1), while Saturday will feature hosts Sonya Salomaa (The Guard) and Benjamin Arthur (Less Than Kind).
After weathering many challenges, it’s now time for the local industry to bask in the spotlight. “I think it’s through the strength of our artistic excellence that we can grow our industry,” Daroshin says. “And we have. People recognize that not only are we skilled, and our services are sometimes less expensive, but we’re actually pretty good.”¦I mean, we’re talking Oscar nominations, and this is world-class.”¦And so in our own very small way, we want to honour that.”