November 11, 2008 -- “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father” is a devastating documentary film about good, evil and injustice. It tells of the terrible destruction caused by anger, and the healing power of love. It tells of great nobility and sacrifice, and savage murder. It is a tale of the best and worst of civilization and mankind. The film is a kind of love letter from an old friend, who would rather not have to have made this film in the first place. He traveled across the U.S. and into Canada to make a record of the impact one man on the lives of many people.
The filmmaker, Kurt Kuenne, is an old friend to the murder victim, Dr. Andrew Bagby. The two grew up together. Andrew starred in Kurt's early films he made as a boy. Short and stocky, the images of Andrew are vaguely similar to those of actor Jack Black. Friends describe Andrew as quick-witted, intelligent and fun-loving. He was also very unlucky in love. He was emotionally devastated when his fiancée, Heather Arnold, broke up with him. Friends suspect he was vulnerable after that. He then started seeing a fellow medical school student, Shirley Turner in Newfoundland, Canada. She was 12 years older than Andrew and had three children in two previous marriages. Later, he tried to break up with Turner, but she refused to let go. She kept calling him and hanging around, even when both were working in residency programs separated by 1,000 miles. He was in Latrobe, Penn., she in Council Bluffs, Iowa. It was a situation with some similarities to the popular movie “Fatal Attraction.”
Eventually the enraged, spurned Shirley Turner persuaded Andrew to meet her in a deserted park in Pennsylvania, where she shot him multiple times with a handgun and left him to die on Nov. 5, 2001. Andrew had failed to heed the advice of his friend, Dr. Clark Simpson, who told him shortly before that, “Nobody drives 16 hours after you've just broken up with them ... do not meet her in private.” Andrew had replied, “What could happen?” Police quickly focused on Turner as a suspect in the case, but before she could be arrested, she fled to Canada (she had dual citizenship in Canada and the U.S.), where extradition proceedings would drag on for years. Then Turner announced, at a press conference, that she was pregnant with Andrew's child. Andrew's parents, David and Kate Bagby, quit their jobs and moved to Newfoundland, Canada, to oversee the criminal proceedings against Turner and to try to get custody of Andrew's child. As the criminal trial dragged on, Zachary was finally born on July 18, 2002. DNA testing proved the boy was Andrew's son. The events that unfolded from that point on were almost beyond belief. I won't go into these terrible events, because it would spoil the film for those who haven't seen it. Suffice it to say the story has a lot of twists.
When David and Kate Bagby learned of the death of their son, their only child, they both decided they had no reason to live anymore and would kill themselves after the memorial service in Sunnyvale, Calif. The story did not end there, of course. David said, “That was the first plan. Obviously we didn't do that.” What they did was to refuse to surrender to despair. Instead, they found new reasons to keep on living, new causes, and new ways to try to make the world a better place. David Bagby went on to write a best-selling book, “Dance with the Devil: A Memoir of Murder and Loss.” The Bagbys went on to campaign for legal reform in Canada regarding bail and child custody. Memorial funds were established: The Dr. Andrew Bagby and son Zachary Memorial Bursary at Memorial University's Medical School and the Dr. Andrew Bagby Memorial Scholarship at Latrobe Hospital in Pennsylvania, where Andrew worked at the time of his murder. Profits from this film go these same charities. The film itself helps to carry on the causes of the Bagbys.
To overcome the static nature of on-camera interviews, Kurt Kuenne uses some very rapid cuts to lay down reinforcing layers of comments by scores of people to emphasize how much Andrew was loved and how scary Turner was, and how loved and respected Andrew's parents are, both in the U.S. and in Canada. Kuenne also manipulates images in the film to make it appear that certain Canadian officials, including a judge, are mouthing words read from court records of what they said. To drive home the point, Kuenne repeatedly juxtaposes other evidence with these mouthings of the judge, contradicting what she said. The film makes a powerful argument that several Canadian officials were not only incompetent, but some of their behaviors amounted to negligent homicide or outright deliberate misconduct.
In addition to being a damning indictment of the Canadian legal system, this film is what it should be, a tribute to a good man, Andrew Bagby, and his incredible parents, David and Kate. They represent the best in all of us, just as Shirley Turner represents how evil people can be when they think only of themselves. This film also records the sorrow and anger of David and Kate Bagby, and how they rose from the depths of despair to try to create something positive out of terrible tragedy. This is a film about the enduring power of love and the terrible destructiveness of hate. This film rates an A. It is one of the best films of 2008.
Click here for the film's official website, which has more about this film, links to the official Canadian investigation, and public statements about this matter, links to numerous news stories about this matter, and how to help with charitable donations and legal reforms in Canada. Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.