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


Average Rating: 8.1/10
Reviews Counted: 49
Fresh: 46 | Rotten: 3

Critics Consensus: Dear Zachary is a both a touching tribute to a fallen friend and a heart-wrenching account of justice gone astray, skillfully put to film with no emotion spared.

Average Rating: 7.6/10
Critic Reviews: 11
Fresh: 11 | Rotten: 0

Critics Consensus: Dear Zachary is a both a touching tribute to a fallen friend and a heart-wrenching account of justice gone astray, skillfully put to film with no emotion spared.


Average Rating: 4.5/5
User Ratings: 5,572



Movie Info

Shortly after his best friend, Dr. Andrew Bagby, was slain by jealous ex-girlfriend Dr. Shirley Turner, filmmaker Kurt Kuenne was shocked to learn that Turner was pregnant with Bagby's unborn child. Hoping to create a film that would serve as both a memorial to Bagby and an introduction to the father the boy would never know, Kuenne quickly began production on a film celebrating the life of his late friend. Traveling across the entire continental United States, Kuenne made it his personal … More

Documentary , Drama , Special Interest
Directed By:
Written By:
Kurt Kuenne
In Theaters:
Feb 24, 2009
Oscilloscope Pictures - Official Site



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Critic Reviews for Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

All Critics (49) | Top Critics (11) | Fresh (46) | Rotten (3) | DVD (3)

Just take our advice and bring tissues. You're going to need them.

Full Review… | November 25, 2008
Time Out
Top Critic

A slick account of ancient crevices in the human psyche rendered in cutting-edge cinematic style.

Full Review… | November 20, 2008
The New Republic
Top Critic

An undeniably shattering story, if forgivably shaky in its impassioned, therapeutic unfolding.

Full Review… | November 7, 2008
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

Dear Zachary earns its right to engage us on a primal level, but it comes on the heels of so many films that don't, movies that...prey on modern fears and inflate third-rate material to the plane of tragedy.

Full Review… | November 3, 2008
New York Magazine/Vulture
Top Critic

A four-handkerchief documentary if there ever was one.

Full Review… | October 31, 2008
New York Post
Top Critic

It is impossible not to be fired up by Kurt Kuenne's incendiary cri de coeur, Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father.

October 31, 2008
New York Times
Top Critic

Know as little going in as possible. The film's tragedy predates Facebook and Twitter, but the rapid-fire way in which its memorials are edited and the scope of those offering them feels like social-network expression of grief - fast, immediate, unifying.

Full Review… | September 25, 2010

A powerful home movie about real-world evil and good

Full Review… | July 3, 2009
Movie Habit

Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne set out to make a memorial about his best friend, Dr. Andrew Bagby, with the intention of giving the tribute to Dr. Bagby's son, Zachary, so the boy--unborn at the time of Dr. Bagby's brutal murder, would know about the father whom h

Full Review… | May 27, 2009

One hell of a heart-wrenchingly sad, blisteringly angry, profoundly heartfelt movie that dares you to walk away with a shrug and a glib quip.

Full Review… | March 2, 2009
Miss FlickChick

The most ambitious work of its kind.

Full Review… | February 26, 2009
Slant Magazine

Emocionalmente exaustivo. Não, mais: devastador. Profundamente devastador.

February 26, 2009
Cinema em Cena

After it's through, a lot will have been said about friendship, injustice, and both faith in and letdown from the legal system, along with the intriguing thought that moral fortitude provides both its own punishments and rewards.

Full Review… | December 9, 2008
Window to the Movies

A documentary that never should have been made, this film is maudlin tabloid journalism thrown onto the screen. All we get in the end is a cry for revenge.

Full Review… | December 8, 2008
Monsters and Critics

Long after the credits roll one will be rendered both empty and lifted by a bewildered family's sudden forbidden journey into the abyss of emotional darkness.

Full Review… | November 30, 2008
Movie Eye

It's a brutal emotional experience.

Full Review… | November 25, 2008
Ain't It Cool Movie Reviews

The phrase labor of love is so often tossed about, but Kurt Kuenne's emotionally wrenching documentary is absolutely that.

Full Review… | November 25, 2008
Premiere Magazine

The most emotionally powerful film of 2008... as deeply personal as any film you will ever see.

Full Review… | November 19, 2008
Antagony & Ecstasy

A sincere heartfelt documentary about life, death and murder.

Full Review… | November 14, 2008
Hollywood Report Card

You have no idea how much harder Dear Zachary ends up hitting.

Full Review… | November 14, 2008

One of the best films of 2008.

Full Review… | November 13, 2008
Laramie Movie Scope

a documentary of wrenching pathos

Full Review… | November 11, 2008

While it truly is a sad tale of friendship and loss, it is far more unexpected, anguished and absolutely sincere. You may see it coming, but you will feel the emotional impact that will haunt you for days.

Full Review… | November 10, 2008
JoBlo's Movie Emporium

An emotional roller-coaster of a movie, one that touches your heart and brings you to tears in some scenes, then enrages you in others.

Full Review… | November 10, 2008
ReelTalk Movie Reviews

Audience Reviews for Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

After watching this heart-wrenching documentary, I lost faith in the judicial system, child protective services, law enforcement and humanity in general. This documentary tears at you, and sends you down a dark and twisted rabbit hole. I felt saddened, angry, disgusted and just appalled at how the whole case turned out, and the extreme sadness that the actions of one person can do to a family. I hope that everyone can take something out of this movie.

Cynthia S.

Super Reviewer

One of the more poignant documentaries I for one have ever seen, Dear Zachary is a love letter, a sermon, and a condolence to all those that loved friend, Andrew Bagby. His friend, filmmaker Kurt Kuenne, looks at his friend's past through films, documents, testimonials from friends and family, and the lens of his camera. Andrew was murdered, in a horrific crime supposedly perpetrated by his then girlfriend, Dr. Shirley Turner. Kuenne follows the criminal proceedings of her trial while simultaneously exploring the life of a dear friend who seemed beloved by all that met and adored him. Kuenne seems to distance himself at times from the prospect of dredging up the details of the savage shooting of his friend, though he does let himself break down, just once, at the prospect of losing his last link to his past. Besides being interesting due to the premise of the film and the charisma of the focal point, Kuenne has an innovative voice and presence within the film as narrator, that truly ties it together. This could easily have been another special on TrueTV or an inane filler piece on the news, but Kuenne lends truth and clarity to the life of someone he grew up with, and watched die. He shows the anger, the hostility, and the utter madness of Shirley Turner, who evades capture in Canada and plays a cat and mouse game with Andrew's parents after revealing she is pregnant. The film becomes a letter to the child, who will never meet his father and is under the duress of his lunatic mother. Using taped phone conversations, found footage, and photographs to show the progression of Zachary's life and the unraveling of his mother under the pressures of her child, Kuenne documents love for someone who is still just a child. It is a heartbreaking and saddening film that makes you always tear up, even at the thought that such injustice can let stand. It's unlike many documentaries out there, and it brings to light the lack of regulation on extradition laws and psychological standards in Canada. Gripping throughout, this is one film that is a must see and possibly one of the best in its genre.

Spencer S.

Super Reviewer


"My name is Kurt and I'm a filmmaker. Andrew appeared in every movie I made growing up. I decided to make a movie, to travel far and wide, to interview everyone who ever knew and loved Andrew."

A filmmaker decides to memorialize a murdered friend when his friend's ex-girlfriend announces she is expecting his son.

It makes me sad to see people criticizing "Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father" for its technical limitations. I rented knowing only it was about a pregnant woman who killed her ex-boyfriend, the subsequent plight of the victim's parents and their agonizing efforts to win the custody of their grandson, Zachary (whose mother was released on bail). But the whole story is so unpredictable - and devastatingly sad - that the less you know about it, the better.

Writer/director/producer/composer Kurt Kuenne was a close friend of Dr. Andrew Bagby, who was killed by a psychotic woman, "Dr." Shirley Turner, right after he had broken up with her. He decided to make a final film with his childhood friend Andrew, and when they learned Shirley was pregnant with Andrew's baby, whom she named Zachary, it became more than a tribute to a friend, but a project to show Zachary the father he would never get to know. With Shirley at large, however, their nightmare wasn't over.

With such a tough, emotional subject, it would be easy to get overtly sentimental, but Kuenne does a terrific job. The film is obviously a very personal project, and visibly no-budget, but that's not an issue because this is not a film meant to be visibly stunning. Apparently, some people are way too cynical to appreciate a film for its heart and content rather than focusing on its aesthetics and "artiness". Had this film been directed by, say, Michael Moore, it would have been more incendiary and garnered larger media attention, but wouldn't have been half as passionate, compelling and, most important, honest.

Kuenne uses the cinematic tool to document history, make a tribute for beloved friends (not only Andrew and little Zachary, but also Andrew's parents, David and Kathleen, the emotional core of this story) and to instigate the audience, both emotionally and intellectually. When most movies that get a wide release don't even attempt either of these goals, this is a remarkable achievement. Not to be missed.

Lorenzo von Matterhorn

Super Reviewer


I'm glad I waited so long to watch this. And I'm glad it was ruined for me before I did. It made the film emotionally muted for me. I'll never know if it could have been a more powerful experience, but I'm okay with that. Sheesh.

Steve K

Super Reviewer

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