"The Way of Dula": Documentary highlights life, legacy of popular ETSU professor battling brain cancer

Jessica Fuller • Sep 24, 2018 at 11:27 AM

For his first film, filmmaker Devin Ricker knew he wanted to profile East Tennessee State University professor Chris Dula. 

Ricker rolled out “The Way of Dula” earlier this year to much praise and positivity from the community, and the film has received praise from the community and inclusion in the fourth annual regional PUSH Film Festival next month in Bristol. The film will be screened with the documentary shorts on Oct. 14 at the Paramount Theater. 

“I decided to make this documentary because of the tremendous impact that Dr. Dula has had on my life and the lives of so many others, Ricker said. “On top of Dr. Dula's story being so amazing, filmmakers and critics alike both appreciated the crafting of that story through the medium of film, and that's a great honor to me. So, overall, the reception has been very positive and I am so thankful for that.”

About Dula:

Dula, who has been battling an aggressive form of brain cancer ever since his diagnosis last year, said his mission in telling his story has always been to raise money for charity. He penned his memoir, “Experiments in Life,” under the name Stephen Sage, and said he is still collecting money for charity through book sales. So far, he has donated to United Way of Puerto Rico, Houston and Miami, the Coalition for Kids, Duke Cancer Institute and the California Fire Foundation, just to name a few. 

“My story’s not that unique, I don’t think,” Dula said. “I sell more books so I can give away more money.” 

In an August update to his social media followers, Dula relayed that doctors at Duke University discovered he’d had a stroke and changed up his treatment regimen. 

He is still putting out his bid to get recognition on the Ellen Degeneres show with the hashtag #GetDulaOnEllen in addition to donating 75 percent of the earnings from his book to charity. 

Which, as he notes in the documentary, has been his goal all along. 

“Optimism matters, there’s scientific literature that shows that,” he says in the film. “I don’t expect people to just find a silver lining in some horrible news. This is bad, having brain cancer is a bad thing. But if there is a greater plan in it, why not make something good come out of it?”

The way of Dula: 

”We go through so many trials and tribulations, so much suffering by definition as people, in the end, you have to ask yourself ‘What does make it all worthwhile?’” 

Dula’s life was a bit of a twisted road before he found his love for psychology and teaching, battling alcoholism and addiction along the way. The change in his life, he says in the film, was turning away from alcohol and setting foot in college. An associate’s degree turned into a bachelor’s, and that turned into a doctorate in clinical psychology. 

And after that, a job opening followed at East Tennessee State University, where he has impacted the lives of thousands of students since he began teaching there in 2004. 

Ricker is just one of thousands of students with a story about Dula, whether it’s from taking one of his popular psychology courses or catching him with his band on the weekends. 

“I have so many personal stories with Dr. Dula it's hard to pick just one,” Ricker said. “However, I think I'll mention not just one moment specifically, but about the feeling I get whenever I spend time with him. Honestly, whether it's attending class, partnering with him on several innovative projects, jamming out at his concerts, or just sitting down and having a one-on-one conversation, I always leave feeling a since of joy and passion for life. Simply put, he inspires me and I think it's both a mixture of how he lives and how he treats those around him. He lives and loves to the fullest, and that's no exaggeration.” 

Ricker said he hopes audiences take two things away from the documentary: The essence of one of ETSU’s most-loved professors, and that there is always hope in any situation in life. 

Catch The Way of Dula on Youtube, or on the big screen at PUSH Regional Film Festival Oct. 12-14. “The Way of Dula” will screen on Oct. 14 at 3 p.m. at the Paramount alongside other local documentary series. Get Dula’s book, “Experiments in Life” on Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com.




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