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Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

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Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)

Rating : 8.3
Studio : MSNBC Films /
Crew : Kurt Kuenne /
Cast : Kurt Kuenne Andrew Bagby David Bagby Kathleen Bagby Shirley Turner
Genre : Crime Documentary

In 2001, Andrew Bagby, a medical resident, is murdered not long after breaking up with his girlfriend. Soon after, when she announces she's pregnant, one of Andrew's many close friends, Kurt Kuenne, begins this film, a gift to the child.

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Cast

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Reviews

gacha2013
2014/12/27

Disturbingly monological doc---Although I would agree that the documentary recounts a sad story, I had heard about the story in the news, so I knew how the story ended. Without giving the basic plot of this documentary away, it's a very sad and sometimes frustrating narrative. The story of the way the justice system worked with regard to a local woman, Shirley Turner, in St. John's, Newfoundland sounds pretty stupid on the part of most of the lawyers and judges involved in the case. Nevertheless, as a documentary this is an awful piece of filmmaking. The story involves the murder of a young American man, Andrew Bagby, by a Canadian woman from Newfoundland, Shirley Turner. The director was a childhood friend of the deceased and part of the narrative is the journey literally taken by car from California to Nfld. by the director/filmmaker. Along the way the director meets friends of the deceased and there is even a few moments given to mourn the death of a relative of the deceased from cancer. Why? Because he was a relative of the deceased and a hell of a nice guy. The documentary criticizes the problems with the justice system in St John's, Nfld. that affect the murder case and later events. But there is absolutely no attempt to research this topic besides some scenes purporting to be cold calls to some of the lawyers and judges. We view the story largely through the eyes of the director and the parents of the young American man. Thus the film is basically a moral condemnation and denunciation of the woman Turner. But what struck me in the end was that the woman who murdered Bagby was seriously ill. I am not excusing this woman, but in the end it is quite obvious to me that she was just being who she was, a seriously disturbed and potentially violent person. Therefore, despite all the best of intentions of the filmmaker and the friends and family of Bagby, the anger, hostility, and moral condemnation against a person who was obviously mentally disturbed creates a strange effect on a film supposedly made to show love for the deceased Bagby and a child who was possibly his son (considering the erratic behavior of Turner, I wondered if anyone actually ever verified whether the child was Bagby's for certain). Turner was a sick person. That goes without saying. But in the end the hostility towards her just seems to me to show that those involved, including Bagby's parents and the filmmaker himself, were "infected" by the horrible person named Turner (truly the movie's "villain") so that they too end up as spiteful and antagonistic as Turner. In other words, everyone plays along with Shirley Turner. With a disturbing atmosphere of self-righteous and un-self-conscious aggressivity, the film attempts to gloss over emotions of violence and hatred. But by hating Shirley Turner so clearly, the film asks the viewer to participate in the same emotions of manipulation and twisted emotionality it condemns in Turner herself. I felt at times that the use of repetition of some of the clips was truly in bad taste. The closing words of a letter "Love Kurt" cannot hide the pure hatred and revenge the film perpetuates. I suppose if the purpose of the film is to vent and spew hatred against a mentally deranged person, "Dear Zachary" is a success. Personally, I found it awful that they would ask one of Turner's own children from a previous relationship to come on camera to castigate a mother who probably left him long ago. But everything is fair game since it is after all for Andrew Bagby, then for Zachary, and finally for the Bagby parents, those loving grandparents who decided that their son lived in the child carried by Shirley Turner, a disturbed, violent, psychopathic woman who wanted to be recognized so much, even of it meant making those around her want to kill her. And they do.

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Robyn Nesbitt (nesfilmreviews)
2012/12/29

Extraordinary.---What starts as tragic story of an extraordinary young man being murdered, begins to takes unimaginable twists and turns leaving the viewer stunned in disbelief. In 2001, Andrew Bagby, a medical resident, is murdered by his ex-girlfriend in Lancaster, PA. Shortly after her arrest she announces she's pregnant with Andrew's child. Kurt Kuenne, one of Andrews friends, begins a cross country trip to make a film for Zachary, a father he will never know. Running parallel to this devastating story is the remarkable family and friends of the victim, displaying relentless perseverance keeping Andrews spirit alive and how he touched so many lives around the world. Andrew's devastated parents uproot their entire lives and relocate to Canada in order to fight for the future of their newborn grandson. During this time, the Canadian government freed Turner (ex-girlfriend) on bail as she awaited extradition to the United States. As a result, a tragic story of loss evolves into the unimaginable. Despite this painful story of loss, it is the awe-inspiring people that make this documentary so poignant and unforgettable.

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Lloyd Vinnik
2012/08/26

Shattering---Having just experienced the joy of Kuenne's most recent film "Shuffle," I sat down with this one expecting a sad but warm'n'fuzzy (and obviously personal) account of friendship and loss. And that's what he set out to make. But who knew that such Real Evil exists in this world, and that his tale would turn into one of Horror that would leave me intensely depressed, angry and shattered? This a mighty, mighty difficult journey to take, but it's personal, independent filmmaking at its absolute zenith, and was worth the extra dose of Clonazepam I needed to get through it. Kuenne is quite the multiple threat...the brilliant editing that hammers the bigger moments home with unbearable ferocity is his, and the trenchant music score is his. This is an Important Talent, and I'll be in line for whatever he does next. And may I say to Mr. Kuenne that I'm so sorry that life dealt you, as well as Dr. Bagby's wonderful family and circle of friends, such unspeakable horror.

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Matt_Layden
2011/10/18

A haunting and devastating documentary that will stay with you for days.---There are many documentaries that are better than this one, specifically from a technical stand point. The biggest shortcoming on this film is the poor editing. It was never meant to be released theatrically, it was meant for the family it focuses on, so there are forgivable aspects, but it is indeed distracting to watch the film with distracting editing choices. Parts of the film do feel really messy and quickly put together. The subject matter on the other hand is one of the most heart wrenching things I've had to watch. It's like watching a train wreck in slow motion and you sit there, helpless with nothing to do. The film is about Andrew, a 30 year old male who was shot to death, 5 times, from his ex-girlfriend. The filmmaker, one of his best friends, decided to make a film dedicated to the memory of his friend. Along the way they discover that the ex-girlfriend was 4 months pregnant with Andrew's child. Now the film switches focus and becomes a "letter" of sorts to Zachary (the child) about the father he will never get the chance to meet.That's only a fraction of the emotional core of the film. I have nothing but utter respect and disbelief in the strengths of Andrew's parents, for what they chose to go through in order to be apart of Zachary's life. The director manages to showcase Andrew enough to make it seem like the viewer knew him by the end of the film. I have to hand it to Kurt (the director) as well, he goes to great lengths to speak to and film every person that had some sort of involvement in Andrew's life. His family, his friends, his co-workers, etc. He goes on a cross country trip to track down these people and talk to them. There was undoubtedly hours upon hours of footage to splice together and as I mentioned before this film was never meant for theatrical release. So the entire production was done by Kurt. Every aspect he had control over and it's a heavy task. His relationship with the subject matter makes the doc extremely subjective. Yet with all the evidence presented, is there another way to look at it? An abundance of emotion overcame me while watching this documentary. The two that stood out to me was sadness and anger. The filmmakers shortcomings from his technical aspects isn't a deterrent to the overall film. I say that everyone should go out and seek the film. If you have Netflix, it's available. It's a must see film.

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DeHeldin
2011/08/06

Overwhelming and pure---I just watched this documentary and I'm so, so....overwhelmed, impressed, sad, angry en full of hope.The film itself is beautiful made. It is perfect the way it is. The quality, the editing, the music.. It did not need more 'stuff'. No, I am no filmmaker but it is just so pure and that was exactly what this story needed, something pure.I am so sad for 'Bagsby' and his little, cute son he is now comforting, they are together somewhere I hope. Zachary looked so much like my youngest daughter who is 17 months now so I was falling madly in love with the little boy on my TV. And then he died. The woman who gave him life ended it. I did not see that coming, strangely enough, and I was deeply shocked. Sweet, sweet boy...I hope you rest in peace in your dad's soft and caring arms <3After sobbing for half an hour I did see hope though, what a beautiful people are the Bagsby's and what a beautiful people are all of their friends. The world has beauty in it because of people like that. Keep strong, keep fighting and keep remembering. Kurt, you made a perfect film that touches lots of hearts I think and although it would be so much better if you did not need to make this film, I truly feel there is a reason I saw this today. Thank you very much.

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James (iReviewFilms)
2011/06/14

Fanaticalaboutfilms Review: Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father---The last time I cried in any movie was a few years back at the end of The Green Mile and that was a good 5 plus years ago and the time before that was probably The Lion King when I was 7 so it's fair to say that it's quite rare for me to get all emotional during a film. This film though had me blubbering like a schoolgirl who had just lost her favourite teddy.Dear Zachary follows the true story of Andrew Bagby, a medical resident who was murdered in 2001 shortly after having broken up with his girlfriend Shirley. She then announces she's pregnant with Andrew's child which leads his closest friend Kurt Kuenne to make a film about Andrew as a gift to the child so he will know what his father was like whilst he was alive.The documentary jumps between these past events and the present in real time so we find out what is unfolding at the same time as the family and friends. The film can be very fast paced and a bit full on especially at the start but this tends to immerse you into the life of Andrew and his family and you become one of them rather than this approach inhibiting the story. There is a lot of focus on Andrew's parents, Kathleen and David, as they go through the emotions of not only coming to terms with the loss of their child but also the challenges in seeking justice for the murderer and fighting for the right with Shirley to see their grandchild.This movie perfectly sums up an emotional roller coaster ride as the emotions I felt varied wildly from sadness to anger, frustration, hope, inspiration, humour and everything in between whilst watching it. I found it even more intense because I knew nothing about the case or this movie coming into it and I recommenced that if you can keep curiosity under control (don't even watch the trailer below) to watch it without prior knowledge of what happened, hence why this review might be slightly vague in places.The fact the documentary is personal to Kuenne brings about a certain objectivity that could not be achieved by another film maker. We get an insight into their life as they grew up in the form of home made movies they did together and family occasions. In some cases this is beneficial as he knows his subject matter better than anyone while in others it's less so as we meet Andrew, the man who has done no wrong in his life (but this bias is understandable, especially considering the intended viewer of the documentary).Movies are supposed to elicit an emotion from you and for this fact alone, Dear Zachary was able to climb its way into my category for one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. Granted the technical film side may not be the best you are ever going to see but boy it has a story to tell and it's well worth listening to.For further reviews feel free to check out: http://www.fanaticalaboutfilms.com

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Red_Identity
2011/01/15

One of the most heartbreaking and horrifying films you will ever see...---Dear Zachary is a documentary, and there is a fallacy about documentaries that this one proves wrong- that they are all logic and lack heart. Kurt Kuenne has made a documentary in a way that a film itself is made, with amazing editing patterns and with a story that really grabs you and moves you. Yes, this is a sad film, but the reason a documentary like this is able to move someone so deeply is not just because it's real, but also because of the craft of the filmmaker. He is trying to make an actual memorial to these people and no words or facts will capture the true horror of a true life event as honestly as what he has created with music. The film plays out very much like a thriller, drama, and tragedy all at once.Now, to the actual events in the film- horrifying. Of course, the film also takes a look at the unbelievably flawed legal system in Canada, but it makes one wonder. Why? Why? Why? To be honest I have never been fond of Canada and the film might play out like an attack against it but my personal feelings can't be kept inside. It is enough to truly make you hate the country. I just hope the film also makes people notice, which is the point of an actual documentary. I usually dislike emotionally-manipulative films, but films like this when are well made cannot be disregarded. As a documentary it succeeds amazingly well.

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Howard Schumann
2011/01/15

Will tear a hole in your heart---Whether or not you are a parent, as long as you are a functioning human being, the documentary Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father will tear a hole in your heart so wide that you can drive a truck through it. Dear Zachary was written, produced, and directed by Kurt Keunne in tribute to his childhood friend, 28-year-old Dr. Andrew Bagby, who was murdered in November, 2001 by his girl friend, Shirley Turner, an emotionally disturbed woman twelve years older than him. After the couple had broken up, Shirley had purchased a gun, then drove from her home in Council Bluffs, Iowa to Pennsylvania to meet Andrew that night in the park, where she shot him five times.The film, originally intended for Andrew's son Zachary as a picture of the father he would never see, is both a love story, a crime story, and a horror story, and one of the most heartbreaking films I have ever seen. While the film is a passionate cry from the heart, it is also very angry and disturbing, and is not recommended for a family with small children. Shot like a home movie, with photos, home movies, interviews, news footage, and recording of telephone conversations, Dear Zachary is a wild ride with cuts so fast it will make your head spin. When the director discovered Andrew's interest and skill in photography, he realized that there was much in his friend's life that he hadn't known about and set out on a journey throughout the United States, interviewing people who knew his friend.We hear testimonials about the kind of person Andrew was from people who knew him from the time he was a child to the time he graduated from Medical school and became a doctor doing his residency in Latrobe, a small Pennsylvania town. Friends recalled Andrew as the gregarious, well-loved individual who starred in Kuenne's earliest attempts at filmmaking. As events unfold, the focus of the film shifts to Andrew's parents, David and Kate Bagby, whose emotional resilience in the face of continuing tragedy is remarkable. Kuenne is deeply involved with the family and often portrays his subjects as being somewhat larger than life but he never claims to be objective.Kuenne tracks the events leading up to the murder, the actual killing and the investigation, and the ensuing custody battle when the accused killer gives birth to a son Zachary after fleeing to St. John's in Newfoundland, Canada. What he could not have known was to where the tragic circumstances would lead or that the Canadian judicial system would fail to protect the family. Shirley, accused of first degree murder, was let out on bail pending her extradition to the United States using the twisted logic of Justice Gale Welsh who said that Shirley was not a danger to the public because she already had killed the one she targeted and would be unlikely to kill again.As we reflect on the tragic shootings in Arizona and the call for healing, the film's rage against the Canadian judicial system and hatred towards the accused killer, while understandable in the wake of unspeakable loss, dehumanizes Shirley to the point of being called "pure evil" and "the devil". More valuable would have been to begin the process of forgiveness and letting go, to consider events in the context of a purposeful universe, and to find hope even when circumstances dictate otherwise. To their credit, however, David and Kate became political activists in Canada after going through their traumatic journey, fighting for stricter laws against sociopaths. The couple's long fight for legal changes in Canada ended recently with a new law that changed the Criminal Code, allowing courts to refuse bail for suspects accused of serious crimes when a minor is involved. For the first time in years, David Bagby and his wife Kate decorated their home this past Christmas.

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lee-griff
2010/02/22

Heartbreaking Search For Justice---I love documentaries because they show unbelievable stories happening to real people. Unfortunately sometimes everyone's worst nightmare can come true & this is the story of a good man who was murdered and the horrible criminal injustices that continued to follow after his death. I have seen hundreds of movies & documentaries over the years but this film affected me more than anything I've seen before. I was blown away by all the love from Andrew's friends and how important he was in their lives. The awful events that happened to him and his family totally broke my heart. I admire Andrew's parents so much for the love they showed to their son, grandson & battle for justice. I came away from this documentary wishing I had known Andrew & had friends like his. I'm sure he would have been very proud about all the tributes they gave him and his parents. The director Kurt Kuenne also deserves praise for making a wonderful documentary that will keep Andrew's & Zachary legacy alive forever.

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moviesleuth2
2009/12/13

Intimate and Passionate: SEE IT!---Voyeurism is a funny thing. Watching other people's little dramas or lives may seem boring at the outset, but often times it can be just as interesting, if not more so, than anything a big studio can come up with. With "Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father," we as an audience get a glimpse into a man that we otherwise would never have known. And after viewing this film, I have to graciously thank writer/director Kurt Kuenne for this.After the murder of his lifelong best friend, Dr. Andrew Bagby, filmmaker Kurt Kuenne decided to go and interview everyone who knew Andrew in order to give his late friend's soon-to-be born son a way to know his father. But unbeknownst to anyone, this film would turn into something completely different.Reviewing this film is difficult. For one thing, no one had any idea where this film was going (Kuenne, who narrates, openly admits this, although no one could possibly imagine what was going to happen). But more importantly, this film has something that many films don't: passion. It has a voice. This film will make you laugh, cry, scream in both terror and anger, and so much more. Even the most politically, one-sided films do not speak to the viewer like this film. In that sense, this film is a masterpiece.But, on a critical scale, it comes up a little short. For me, the most effective bits were the interviews about Andrew. Those were funny and touching. Even if it added a few extra minutes to the running time, it would have been worth it. I felt like I could have watched a whole day's worth of interviews about Andrew. But the film gets into the struggle between Shirley Turner, Andrew's ex-girlfriend and probable murderer and Andrew's parents, who are trying to seek custody Andrew's son, Zachary. The film sort of loses focus at times, and it really inhibits Kuenne's goal in letting us know who Andrew was. At the end, it almost seems like a piece of propaganda (see the movie and you'll understand). Judging by what happens, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but still. Of minor note, the film only shows the good things about Andrew. Not that Kuenne turns him into some sort of flawless figure (Bagby does that himself), but it would have made Bagby seem more well-rounded.Yet I wholeheartedly recommend this film. It introduces us to a wonderful person, and his name was Andrew Bagby.

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