Set in the West End and shot in the West End, Down River is that rare movie filmed “in Vancouver for Vancouver”. Local film students comprised half the crew that was blessed with sun during a June and July shoot.
Vancouver actress Babz Chula, who died of cancer in 2010, is the inspiration for longtime friend Ben Ratner’s first feature. He wrote and directed this story of an older woman named Pearl (Helen Shaver) who guides three younger talents — artist Aki (Ratner’s wife Jennifer Spence), rock singer Harper (Colleen Rennison) and actress Fawn (Gabrielle Miller) – who live in her building. When Pearl unexpectedly leaves them, the three are forced to face the future on their own.
Ben Ratner accepts the award for VIFF Most Popular Canadian Film.
Down River is such an intimate film that it feels like no one else is in the room but you and the characters, even during a cancer diagnosis. That realism proved tough for me at the final VIFF screening last Thursday since I’d just learned that my sister’s cancer, in remission for a decade, has returned. But like life, the movie is full of sex (of all kinds) and laughter (Aki photographs a turd).
Babz Chula is gone but her spirit is everywhere in the film: her husband Larry Lynn shot it and the signature song Down River was sung to her years before at her home as she battled cancer. She would be so proud that Down River was voted VIFF’s Most Popular Canadian feature and Ben Ratner earned honourable mention in the BC Emerging Filmmaker Award.
Down River’s Jay Brazeau and Ben Ratner with The Dick Knost Show’s Tom Scholte at the VIFF Closing Gala.
Ben Ratner at last screening of Down River at VIFF.
“It was for Babs” – said Jay Brazeau.
Producer and Jennifer Spence
Cast Jennifer Spence, Jay Brazeau and Colleen Rennison.