Old 02-23-2009, 05:09 PM
Kurt Kuenne's Dear Zachary

Dear Zachary (2008)

On November 5, 2001, a young man by the name of Andrew Bagby was murdered. Someone had taken a .22 caliber handgun and shot him five times all over his body. You've probably never heard of this man, but by the end of this film, you will feel like you've known him for your entire life.

Upon the death of his friend, documentary filmmaker Kurt Kuenne set out to make a film to record people's memories of Andrew. This includes interviews with Andrew's family, friends, colleagues, and anyone else who knew him. During the making of this film, Kurt learns a very important fact. The woman who is accused of killing Andrew, Shirley, is pregnant with Andrew's child. Kurt changes the focus of the documentary to make it a letter to Andrew's son, Zachary, a son who will never get to know his father. The documentary deals with the trials of bringing Shirley to justice. This is the focus until another shocking event occurs that impacts everyone again less than two years after Andrew's murder.

This is one of the most heart-wrenching, emotional, and touching documentaries that I have ever seen. It's one of those films that keeps shocking you at every turn. At first, Kuenne's style seems a bit too amateurish to be able to make a good documentary about a subject as serious as this, but you quickly forget that you are watching low quality footage from Andrew's life and quickly get engaged in the story.

Through numerous interviews, we learn of Andrew's life, from his humble beginnings through his attempts to get into medical school. We see how Kurt and Andrew were great friends through the movies that he and Kurt made while they grew up together. Then Shirley came into his life, she and Andrew had a brief relationship together, but he decided that he wanted to break it off.

After the break up, Shirley shows up at Andrew's door on November 5. This is confirmed through a colleague of Andrew's who he had told and whose house he was to visit later that night. Andrew didn't show and if there's one thing that Andrew's friends knew about him, it was that he is never late.

The next day's events are a mix of concern, revelation, and horror. Andrew never showed up for his residency that morning and no one had seen him since yesterday. The police show up at the hospital to tell them the terrible news of Andrew's death. He had been found in a parking lot, shot five times, and left behind his car. The evidence quickly piles up against Shirley, whose car had been seen next to his in the parking lot that night. It turns out that Shirley also had the exact type/caliber of ammunition that had been used in the murder.

Andrew's parents, David and Kate, were devastated, but the shocks were not to end with their son's death. After a conversation with the police via telephone, Shirley went to Newfoundland, Canada. When she is finally charged, the Canadian government decides to let her out on bail.....they let a highly-probable, suspected premeditated murderer out on bail. Then her extradition trials begin. That's trial with an "s" on the end, as the date was changed about a dozen times as several articles had to be considered, debated, then other judges felt they weren't ready to rule on it.

When Shirley was in Jail, she was given visitation rights with Zachary while he was staying with his grandparents (Andrew's parents). Then Shirley was let out of jail again, on bail that was apparently never paid. Meanwhile, David and Kate are trying to get custody of Zachary who they do not feel is safe in the hands of Shirley. They go through child services who take no action to get the child away from Shirley.

They also continue to try and get Shirley locked up again, but the reports from the court say that Shirley is no threat against the people because her violent act was specifically against Andrew and that she did not want to harm anyone else. The report goes on to say that she has no psychological problems that would prevent her from re-entering society for the time being. They should have listened to the pleas of David and Kate.

On August 18, 2003, Shirley and Zachary go missing. There are several hours of uncertainty as everyone questions whether Shirley tried to flee the country with Zachary or if she is hiding out somewhere. Two bodies are discovered in the Atlantic Ocean, positively identified as Shirley and Zachary. The emotion is overwhelming as David vents angrily at the camera while Kate cries. From here on, the letter is not only to Zachary, but also to David and Kate, who becomes activists to fight for changes in the flawed Canadian laws regarding bail.

There is another shocking scene where Kurt is repeating portions of the court's report, such as the section where it says she has no psychological problems, then intercutting it with information we have been told about her problems with her previous boyfriends. She had threatened to kill herself when one of them decided to break up with her before and while she was in jail, she had to be put on suicide watch, making sure that she was checked on every 15 minutes. Add to that she was already a highly-probable, suspected premeditated murderer. No psychological problems?

A few years later, a report on the investigation was released. This report included detailed information about the court proceedings. One of the authors of the report even stated that if Shirley had not been released on bail, twice, the review would not have been necessary because Zachary would still be alive. We see footage of Kurt trying to contact the judges involved and the child protection worker they tried to work with. Not surprisingly, they all decided not to comment, but the child protection worker did end up stepping down at least.

It would have been really easy for Kurt to lose track of the length of the documentary with the dozens and dozens of people he interviewed, but he is able to bring it all together brilliantly to tell this story of personal tragedy. Perhaps it will lead to major changes in the bail laws of Canada, because something certainly needs to be done. If you're not convinced of that by the end of this film, then just ask Andrew and Zachary. 4/4 stars.
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Old 02-23-2009, 07:57 PM
I hated that movie, it made me cry so damn much, and I'm sorry but I can't read your review as I don't want to cry any more over it. Though I do appreciate the effort and I'm sure I probably agree with you as I saw your 4/4.
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