This weekend I saw Dear Zachary, an award-winning documentary by Kurt Kuenne. When Kurt finds out that his best friend, Dr. Andrew Bagby, has died in Pennsylvania at the hands of his mentally disturbed ex-girlfriend Shirley Turner, he sets out on a journey to make a film to memorialize Andrew for his family and friends. Along the way he discovers that Shirley is pregnant with Andrew’s child and now the movie becomes a scrapbook that will help the child know his dead father. On this journey we meet Andrew’s parents David and Kathleen Bagby, and relive the tragedy of Andrew’s death through their recollection of the events. Andrew met Shirley when he was at medical school in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. Shirley is charged with murder by the authorities and flees to Canada. Thus starts a harrowing tale of a parents’ struggle to put their son’s murder behind them, and learn to interact with the murderess so they can have access to their unborn grandchild. The child is named Zachary and the film addresses the events and information to him throughout.
Shirley’s extradition proceedings take over a year, and supremely lax Canadian laws grant her bail once while still debating if she should be extradited or not. In the meantime Kurt travels to England and then through the mid West to meet both sides of Andrew’s family, and collect anecdotes and more memories. He finally arrives at St. John’s and get to meet Zachary, a chubby baby who is the spitting image of his father. Shirley is thrown into jail again and grants temporary custody to the Bagbys. But then she is let out yet again on bail and realizes that Zachary is really close to his grandmother now. What follows is a harrowing and gut wrenching tale that I will not talk reveal any further. Suffice to say that it exposes the Canadian judicial and child services system as gutless, and witless.
Dear Zachary is not for the faint-hearted. It will give you a sucker punch to your stomach as you follow this story in real time and see the participants. The tragedy of loss is different as seen through the eyes of family, friends, neighbors. Kuenne builds the story without much melodrama and instead of leaving us with a profound sense of emptiness, he manages to give a message of hope and achievement in the end. The movie is brilliantly shot and edited and has original music composed by Kuenne. This much talked about and well recognized documentary is an hour and 35 minutes long, and worth viewing if only to compare the judicial systems between two neighboring countries and the crying need for reform in our bail laws.
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