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DEAR ZACHARY: A LETTER TO A SON ABOUT HIS FATHER(director/writer: Kurt Kuenne; cinematographer: Kurt Kuenne; editor: Kurt Kuenne; music: Kurt Kuenne; Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Kurt Kuenne; Oscilloscope Pictures; 2008)
A searing heartfelt tale.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Kurt Kuenne films a tragic modern-day story with expert craftsmanship (using documentarian Errol Morris as his model) and loving care for his warm-hearted heroic subjects and utter disdain for the film’s creepy villain. It provocatively moves along like a mystery story with many surprising revelations and is also a moving tribute to wonderful grandparents (Kate and David Bagby), the failure of both the Canadian judicial and child protective service to function properly, a memorial to the victims and, in the final analysis, an urgent plea for legal-reform. This personal documentary paced in a whirlwind speed, is a real tear-jerker and a searing heartfelt tale. The virtual one-man film crew, Kuenne, shot it as a tribute to his childhood friend, the slain 28-year-old Dr. Andrew Bagby (even shooting home movies of him as a child). Andrew was shot five times in a rage by his emotionally unstable 40-year-old Canadian ex-girlfriend Dr. Shirley Turner. She was never convicted of the crime, even though the police were able to gather enough evidence of her probable guilt–causing her to flee the country. The inability of the Canadian judicial system to function properly, as it allows someone accused of a premeditated first-degree murder to be free on bail not once but twice, thereby allowing her to kill again, is enough to make any fair-minded viewer’s blood boil.

It investigates in detail, with a surgeon’s thoroughness, the murder of medical resident in family practice, Dr. Andrew Bagby, in Keystone State Park, in Latrobe Pa, on Nov. 6, 2001. When it soon becomes apparent that the prime suspect is Shirley Turner, a resident of St John’s Newfoundland but living in Council Bluffs, Iowa, who it later turns out is pregnant with Andrew’s child, the film becomes a mind-boggling study of contrasting good and evil and the failure of the judicial system to work when the accused flees to Newfoundland after she drove 1,600 mile to commit the murder and while there wins in her attempts to avoid extradition. Less than a year later, in July 2002, Shirley has given birth to Andrew’s son, Zachary, and through the use of interviews with Andrew’s hometown pals, videos of Shirley, talks with his folks, family members and the resident doctor’s friends, it tells a full blown story of tragedy in scrapbook style about a likable, competent and fun-loving young victim and how a possessive, manipulative and sociopath woman he met on the rebound after he was previously dumped and left feeling insecure, brought an end to such a promising life.

The film is, probably, best experienced by the viewer not knowing beforehand all the forthcoming shocks this tale involves. It’s enough to only know of the saintliness of Andrew’s California residing Silicon Valley professional parents, the depiction of Shirley as the Devil and the Canadian judicial system as a cold bureaucratic place that is indifferent to the victim and of doing the right thing. For those who might have read “Dance With the Devil,” a bestseller written by David Bagby, or followed the story on TV, the film might not be as startling. But I never heard the story before and even though feeling shamelessly manipulated, I still felt an outrage and a terrible sense of grief as the horrible events unfolded and found that the polemic worked for me because it was so genuine.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”