Babz Chula remembered with two VIFF films

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      Moving moments are a given at the Vancouver International Film Festival, but this year will provide some particularly poignant ones for the local film community. In addition to titles dedicated to former Georgia Straight film contributors Ian Caddell and Mark Harris, two special selections pay tribute to the life of late local great Babz Chula.

      When stage and screen star Chula succumbed to an eight-year battle with cancer at the age of 63 on May 7, 2010, her loss reverberated throughout the local entertainment community.

      “It’s a rare thing to be able…to get the closure that we’re going to get with Babz with these two films,” Canadian Images programmer Terry McEvoy said by phone.

      The ensemble drama Down River, directed by Benjamin Ratner, features a character based on Chula, Pearl (Helen Shaver), who mentors three young artists (Gabrielle Miller, Jennifer Spence, Colleen Rennison).

      “Ben Ratner was close to Babz for very many years, and he’s part of the coterie of actors that surrounded her at any given time,” McEvoy explained. “So what Ben was trying to capture was that spirit of unofficial mentorship and friendship and guidance that Babz provided for this group….It is a fiction film, but it’s a loving remembrance of Babz in that sense and the influence that she had on these very creative people in music as well as in theatre as well as in film.”

      The film, part of VIFF’s inaugural B.C. Spotlight series, will be presented at a special gala event.

      Meanwhile, Chi marks a return to the documentary form for director Anne Wheeler, Chula’s friend.

      McEvoy pointed out that although Down River is set during the period when Chula discovered her illness, Chi chronicles her time after that, when she travelled to India for Ayurvedic cancer treatment.

      “For those who didn’t know Babz as a person, I think that Chi will be very helpful because they’ll understand what a human spitfire looks like….What we have is a very rare opportunity to see someone who’s very articulate die before our eyes, effectively.”

      McEvoy said that they hope that the two films provide healing and closure for the numerous people who knew and loved Chula.

      For screening information, visit