Thursday, August 18, 2016

Doc Watch

I love watching documentaries, and Netflix and YouTube have only fueled this love.

I've watched three recently:

This one I watched on YouTube. I was looking for more information and inspiration for the geisha room box I've been working on, and I stumbled across it. It's a great look at the tradition of geisha, and how it both reflects and contributes to Japanese culture, as well as providing an overview of the country's history and interactions, and conflicts, with Western society. It's narrated by Susan Sarandon, too.

This documentary is streaming on Netflix now. Back in July, I read the book The Serial Killer Whisperer, which is about a teenage boy who took up writing letters to various serial killers and developed a friendship of sorts with them. Arthur Shawcross is one that he exchanged many letters with, and so his correspondence  was a big part of the story. Shawcross is known as the Genessee River Killer because most of his crimes occurred in Rochester, NY, and he's a macabre part of the city's history. This documentary is only about 45 minutes long, and it's very basic in its format: the interviewer sits across from Shawcross, and asks him about his past and about the crimes he committed. It's interesting to people like me who are fascinated with true crime stories, but it's not one that's going to appeal to everyone because he describes some horrifying scenes and he was a despicable person.

The one I watched this morning was a great one, in terms of content and film quality, but it's inspiration is heart-breaking. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father is a documentary that was produced by Kurt Kuenne as a tribute to his best friend Andrew Bagby, who was murdered in 2001. 


The woman who murdered him, a former girlfriend named Shirley Turner, revealed she was pregnant with Bagby's child as the court proceedings began. Despite his mother's crime and jail sentence, the baby, Zachary, was released into her custody. She was ruled as non-threatening because her crime had been "specific", and not aimed at anyone else. Kuenne wanted his friend's son to know what a wonderful man his father had been, so he conceived the idea for collecting photographs, old home movies and interviews with friends and family to compile as a keepsake. Zachary was a god-send to his father's parents, who were grieving the loss of their only child, and the story took another tragic turn when Turner killed her infant son and herself in 2003. The documentary is a loving tribute to a man that so many people seem grateful to have known, and it turns into a cry for legal reform, because as Bagby's parents point out, Turner would not have been able to kill again if her extradition to the US (she had fled to Newfoundland after murdering Bagby) had not been delayed so many times, and if the numerous documents describing her as psychologically disturbed had been properly reviewed and considered by the judge and the department of child services.

Obviously, this film is heart-breaking to watch because we are given a window into other people's grief, but one thing I can't get out of my mind is the fact that Turner was a doctor. A doctor is someone we trust with our health and safety, someone whom we look to for hope and reassurance and advice when we're unwell. We trust that they have the knowledge to help us, reserving any judgment or intent to harm. Turner had achieved the title of doctor, and clearly was unstable and dangerous. Furthermore, the psychologist who treated her was found guilty of professionasl misconduct because he had posted her bail initially. lastly, the judge and prosecuters and child welfare agencies involved in the case were all ruled to be at fault for prioritizing Turner's innocence rather than the well being of her infant son. So many errors, by so many pillars of society, that we are supposed to trust in, proved to have a fatal outcome, and paints a grim picture of "the system", which is more concerned with bureaucracy and yellow tape rather than individuals.

Definitely worth watching, but be prepared a roller coaster of emotions.

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