Thursday, March 6, 2008

Jason Goes to Cinequest--Day 6

Three movies last Monday, introducing a second theme of the festival, and illustrating the power of films and film festivals to take me on a powerful emotional roller coaster.

First up was "Dear Zachary", an absolutely heart-wrenching documentary. I even have trouble writing about it without tears forming, so I'll quickly lay out the facts of the case. Andrew Bagby was born in 1973 in Sunnyvale, CA (so there's a deep local connection here). He grew up to be a doctor and practiced family medicine in Latrobe, PA. On November 5, 2001, Dr. Andrew Bagby was murdered by his ex-girlfriend Dr. Shirley Turner. While police were amassing enough evidence for an arrest warrant, Shirley Turner fled to St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada (she was a Canadian citizen). There she fought extradition while walking the streets free on bail. A key point here is that the Canadian bail system only requires the accused to sign (or have someone sign) a declaration that they promise to pay if the accused does not show up for court. Shirley--a probable pre-meditated murderer--was out officially on $75,000 bail, of which $0 was paid (and not even proof of ability to pay was needed). While walking free in St. John's, she held a press conference to announce she was pregnant with Dr. Andrew Bagby's child. During this time, Andrew's parents--David and Kate Bagby--moved to St. John's, and became active in the fight to a) extradite Shirley Turner to the U.S. to stand trial, and b) win custody of the child, who was born, confirmed to be Andrew's son, and named Zachary. Shirley Turner successfully postponed extradition for nearly 2 years, while retaining custody of Zachary, although the Bagby's were granted visitation rights. On August 17, 2003, just over one month after Zachary's first and only birthday, Shirley Turner committed murder-suicide, drowning both herself and Zachary in the Atlantic Ocean.

This immensely powerful film (which, by the way, is not-for-profit. All proceeds go to the Dr. Andrew Bagby scholarship) was made by Kurt Kuenne, a childhood friend of Andrew's (they grew up making home movies, shot by Kurt and starring Andrew). It started as a memorial to Andy. When Zachary was born, it became a letter to Zachary (hence the title) so he could one day know his father. When Zachary was killed, this movie became a letter to David and Kate Bagby, documenting their heroic efforts, horrible trauma, and subsequent activism. It also became a bitter indictment of the errors of the Canadian justice system--focusing most importantly on bail reform.

Please visit the film's website for more links to the case, to donate either to the film or to Andrew Bagby memorial funds, and especially to petition the Canadian government for bail reform. I'd like to encourage any of my Canadian readers to petition your MP directly. For my American readers (or any other nation), please follow the link to find how to petition the Canadian Attorney General.

For myself, I plan to write a letter to the Canadian AG, but I want it to be well thought out, so I'll take time on it after I'm done with Cinequest. I plan to post the draft text of that letter in this space, although the final one I send will be hand written. In the meantime, for my "soundbite" line, I plan to use, "Justice might be slow, and that's fine. But justice must, above all, be just". Any comments on that line or other suggestions for how I should craft that letter would be greatly appreciated. Also, if anyone has suggestions as to how an American like myself might otherwise put pressure on the Canadian government, I'd appreciate it. I'm thinking perhaps if enough people write the State Dept they could exert pressure via extradition treaty negotiations? Any other thoughts?

I'll leave you with this picture of the greatest grandparents in the world (other than my own), Kate and David Bagby, along with director Kurt Kuenne. They were all enormously brave and generous to answer questions after the film:

Okay, I have to stop thinking about this movie for a while (and believe me, that's a hard thing to do), and focus on the rest of the festival.

There's a certain amount of emotional dexterity required to watch dozens of movies at a film festival (I'm up to 27 for Cinequest so far). And sometimes, a movie leaves you in an emotional state where the next movie just doesn't fit (I remember a few years ago at the SF International I had a day where a suicide documentary was followed by a musical comedy, which was followed by another suicide documentary, followed by another musical comedy. That gave me emotional whiplash).

But sometimes, you see just the right movie to help you recover from the emotional impact of the previous movie. Such was the case with "Ruby Blue". Bob Hoskins stars as recent widower Jack (oh yeah, loss of a loved one/family member. That's the second them I've found in Cinequest this year. But not nearly as much fun to point out as birthdays). Jack is consumed by guilt. He drank heavily ever since losing his job in the 80's, and put his wife through hell. He's now known locally as "grumpy Jack". His estranged son won't let him see his grandchildren. Basically he's a sad old loner destined to die alone. He doesn't even take an interest in his racing pigeons, which used to be his passion before he put them aside to care for his wife during her final years. But a little ray of sunshine comes when a new neighbor moves in and her 8 year old daughter Florrie takes a shine to Jack. In fact, Jack becomes her de-facto babysitter. This opens him up somewhat (he finally bothers to shave). But he still isn't ready for the advances of the old French woman who lives across the street. At least, not at first, but he warms up to her quick enough (home cooked meals will do that). And he also reaches out to a troubled local teen who takes an interest in racing his pigeons. Things are looking up, until rumors start to fly about why he's spending so much time with children. Bob Hoskins, of course, is typically masterful, but the whole supporting cast does a wonderful job with this movie that pulls you from despair into a recovery of hope and joy. Just what I needed at that moment.

And finally, the night ended with the crowd-pleaser bittersweet comedy, "The Village Barbershop". The title and setting is a quiet barbershop in Reno, where Art Leroldi (John Ratzenberger, exuding stoic dignity with flashes of brilliant sarcastic wit) has cut hair for decades with his partner Enzo. He's already a widower who hasn't gotten over the loss of his wife to breast cancer, now Enzo dies, and he's left to run the struggling barbershop on his own (while Big Mart is buying up properties all over town). He never knew how to do the books, and his new landlord (son-in-law of the old kind landlord) is a real prick. And besides, even if he knew how to do the books, he still drinks and gambles all his money away at the track. He basically needs a miracle. Equally in need of a miracle is Gloria (Shelly Cole), who has just found out she's pregnant and her boyfriend is leaving her for a new woman (and demands his trailer back). She's a licensed cosmetologist. Only problem is, Art has never hired a female barber. In fact, he's never even cut a woman's hair. But, she does know how to do the books, and in a fit of desperation, he finds out she's just what the barbershop needs. And so begins a funny, sweet path to recovery. Here's a picture of director Chris Ford, editor Ian Montgomery, and soundtrack vocalist (and local SF singer-songwriter) Brittany Shane:

So that's how a marvelous slate of films on Monday tore me apart and built me back up again.

I'll finish on one final note. There's a joke that's half-told in "The Village Barbershop" about a priest bending a nun over a pew and doing her from behind. The joke is setup, but the punchline never revealed. When I asked, Chris Ford didn't know exactly how it went, but John Ratzenberger had told it to him and it ended with some sort of pun on "habit". So Mr. Ratzenberger, if you happen to be reading this for some reason, first you were excellent in "The Village Barbershop" and second how does the joke about the priest and the nun go?
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