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Home > Publications > Quill > SDX Award Winners: Television Documentaries


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Monday, July 13, 2009
SDX Award Winners: Television Documentaries

MSNBC and WRAL-TV

By Jim Poyser

Television Documentaries (Network/Syndication Service/Program Service)

WINNER: KURT KUENNE, MSNBC

“Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father”

"Dear Zachary” is a first-person account of the life and murder of Dr. Andrew Bagby (1973-2001), whose killer fled to Canada, went on to bear his child and walked free on bail awaiting trail, giving her the opportunity to kill again. Her second murder exemplified how truly disturbed she was. She not only killed the father of her child — she killed her own son.

Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne wrote that his film “was never supposed to seen by you [or] seen outside my immediate circle of loved ones, and it was certainly not supposed to be a crime story or a piece of ‘journalism’ in any way.” Instead, the film was “prepared for an audience of one — the Zachary of the title, my late best friend’s son, born after his death — as a way for him to get to meet the father he would never have the opportunity to know in life.”

Bagby was gunned down at the age of 28 in a state park in western Pennsylvania in November 2001. His ex-girlfriend, Shirley Turner, the prime suspect, fled to Canada, where she discovered she was pregnant with his son.

She named him Zachary.

“This was supposed to be a tribute film,” Kuenne wrote. “I considered forgetting about the project after Zachary was murdered on August 18, 2003, because my intention had been to give him the film as a present when he was old enough to watch it. But when I realized that I now had a responsibility to tell his story publicly, I picked it up once again.”

One judge said: “In a category packed with some of the year’s most incredible journalist undertakings, this was the entry I still can’t stop thinking about, even weeks after first watching it. It is a more thorough and complete work than I have ever seen in the span of a 90-minute documentary. You’ll want to hug your family, call a long-lost friend, then go to work

combating systematic governmental breakdowns that allow evil to destroy that which is most important to all of us.”

Kuenne observed that “the most difficult aspect of this whole experience was not the making of the film, but living through this nightmare in real life, watching my friend’s family be annihilated by this monstrous woman, and watching the government of Canada help her do it. Documenting it was easy; living through it was excruciating.”

More online: http://tinyurl.com/llhal8

Television Documentaries (Large Market Station: 1-50 Market)

WINNER: CLAY JOHNSON, JAY JENNINGS,

GERALD OWENS & LAURA RIDDLE, WRAL-TV

“Love Child”

This documentary examines the high rate of teen pregnancy in the African-American community — twice the rate for white teens in North Carolina. The WRAL-TV documentary unit in Raleigh, N.C., decided to meet this issue head on. Host Gerald Owens, research and production assistant Laura Riddle, photographer/editor Jay Jennings and writer/producer Clay Johnson asked difficult questions: Why was the rate so high among this specific group of African-American girls? Were there cultural reasons? And why does the trend span generations within families?

Johnson noted that the teen mothers featured in the documentary would not reveal the names of the fathers of their children, so “our documentary unit recruited two African-American film students from a local, historically black college to capture the attitudes and opinions of young African-American men towards teen pregnancy.”

The filmmakers hope that through the telling of these stories, “solutions are revealed that may help reduce the incidence of teen pregnancy and help teen mothers and their children achieve more successful lives.”

Judges praised the filmmakers for placing the emphasis on “the voices of young people, with narration and analysis kept to a minimum ... a strong, smart choice. The effort to include the voices of every stakeholder made the story complete.”

The WRAL-TV team noted: “We received much positive feedback from viewers. A number of nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups that work on the issue of teen pregnancy requested DVDs of the program, and we provided them free of charge. They are now using the program for educational purposes.”

Judges lauded the “honest emotion” of the documentary, which makes it feel “wholly relevant and critically relevant.”

The filmmakers said their work “will continue to open the eyes of people in the community who were either unaware of this problem or ignored it. That’s how society change begins.”

More online: http://tinyurl.com/nwbdb8



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