Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

What’s meant to be a cinematic scrapbook for a son to know his dad, turns into an eye-opening saga of legal misfires and raw emotion.

This doc leaves you to wonder if your tear ducts will ever recover.

Trailer for “Dear Zachary”

Watch “Dear Zachary”

I watched Dear Zachary on Amazon Prime Video at

But you can stream it for free on:

And Apple TV, Vudu Fandango, Microsoft and YouTube all have it for rental too for around $3.99 to $4.99.

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  • My Rating: 96/100
  • IMDB Rating: 8.5/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Ratings: 96/100 (Users); 94/100 (Critics)

My Review of “Dear Zachary”

There are gut-punch movies, and then there’s Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father.

This searing 2008 documentary, directed by Kurt Kuenne, chronicles an unspeakable family tragedy with raw intimacy rarely seen on film.

It’s a story so agonizing and infuriating, you may find yourself pausing the movie just to scream at the screen. And yet, Dear Zachary is ultimately a profound meditation on love, friendship, and the imprint we leave behind.

Our story begins in 2001, when Kuenne’s childhood friend, Andrew Bagby, is murdered in a Pennsylvania parking lot.

The prime suspect is Bagby’s ex-girlfriend, Shirley Turner, who flees to Canada soon after the killing. As the legal case drags on, Turner stuns everyone by announcing that she is pregnant with Bagby’s child.

The boy, Zachary, is born in July 2002.

This is where Dear Zachary transforms from a poignant eulogy into a real-life thriller.

Turner is released on bail and given custody of Zachary, despite the objections of Bagby’s grieving parents, David and Kathleen.

The grandparents move to Newfoundland to fight for visitation rights, all while pushing for Turner’s extradition back to the U.S. to stand trial.

What follows is an emotional rollercoaster ride captured in agonizing detail by Kuenne’s camera.

I love how Dear Zachary gives us a real-time development of the story. The doc was created as events were unfolding which is a unique approach.

We see the bleary-eyed exhaustion of the elder Bagbys as they navigate a foreign justice system and shuttle between cramped hotel rooms.

We watch the cherubic Zachary giggle and coo, blissfully unaware of the maelstrom swirling around him.

And we seethe at the maddening failures of the Canadian legal system, which seems more concerned with Turner’s rights than the safety of an innocent child.

But Dear Zachary is more than just a true-crime tale. It’s a celebration of Andrew Bagby’s life, told through the tear-streaked remembrances of his family and friends.

We see Bagby clowning around with his buddies, delivering babies as a beaming medical resident, and radiating pure joy on his wedding day.

It’s impossible not to fall in love with this guy, which makes his senseless death all the more gut-wrenching.

And then there’s Kuenne himself, who narrates the film with a mix of anguish and gallows humor.

He’s not just a documentarian, but a character in his own story, wrestling with survivor’s guilt and grappling with how to memorialize his friend.

In one unforgettable scene, Kuenne breaks down while interviewing Bagby’s parents, his choked sobs echoing the grief of everyone who knew and loved Andrew.

Dear Zachary builds to a climax so horrifying, it almost defies belief.

The Big Twist (Spoiler Alert)

Just when you think “Dear Zachary”: A Letter to a Son About His Father”” is going to be a heartfelt, cinematic scrapbook for a kid to connect with the dad he never knew, boom—the story delivers a haymaker that leaves you on the canvas.

Originally, filmmaker Kurt Kuenne kicks off this project to give little Zachary a movie-memory-jug of his dad, Andrew Bagby, a guy whose life script took a noir turn thanks to his ex, Shirley Turner—also Zachary’s mom.

But then, plot twist of all plot twists.

Shirley is bizarrely granted bail in Canada.

She avoids extradition.

And then she goes and turns what was supposed to be a poignant family archive into a heart-splintering tragedy.

She kills Zachary and herself.

Suddenly, this film isn’t just a letter; it’s a stark, soul-shaking signal flare about how the system failed.

But even in its darkest moments, the film never loses sight of the love story at its core.

We see it in the fierce devotion of David and Kathleen Bagby, who move heaven and earth to protect their grandson.

We see it in the loyalty of Andrew’s friends, who rally around his memory with bear hugs and belly laughs. And we see it in the twinkling eyes of little Zachary, a beam of hope in a sea of despair.

In the end, Dear Zachary is a testament to the enduring power of human connection. It’s a reminder that even in the face of unimaginable cruelty, compassion and resilience can still flourish.

And it’s a challenge to hold our loved ones a little tighter, knowing that life can change in an instant.

So, go ahead and queue up Dear Zachary. Just make sure you have a box of tissues handy.

And maybe a punching bag, too. Because this is a film that will make you cry, make you rage, and make you marvel at the incredible strength of the human spirit. It’s a gut-punch, all right. But it’s also a gift.

Some Things in Dear Zachary that Other Blogs Seem to Miss

I couldn’t fit some things neatly in my review above. Here’s a summary of some items I noticed other reviews of Dear Zachary under-covered.

Legal and Judicial Stuff from Dear Zachary

The doc gives a serious legal critique of the Canadian legal system.

It specifically targets decisions made by Judge Gale Welsh.

One key decision was her granting bail to Shirley Turner. She was the accused murderer of Andrew Bagby and mother of Zachary.

Despite her first-degree murder charge and fleeing to Canada, she was released on bail.

This is seen as a major legal failure. It led to the tragic murder of Zachary by his mother, who then committed suicide.

The doc shows the dire outcomes of giving a violent individual access to their children.

This was the case with Andrew Bagby’s murderer. It sparked a call for legal changes, leading to “Zachary’s Law” in 2010.

The law aims to protect children by letting judges consider a parent’s violent or unstable past in custody decisions.

Check out for more on legal changes being made due to Dear Zachary.

The Impact on Bail Reform: The documentary’s role in influencing bail reform in Canada. This led to the passage of “Zachary’s Bill,”.

The Filmmaking Technique: Kurt Kuenne’s aggressive editing style and the way he uses quick cuts and a non-linear narrative. This creates an emotionally charged atmosphere.

The Personal Connection of the Filmmaker: Kurt Kuenne had a personal friendship with Andrew Bagby. This gives him a unique perspective as both a filmmaker.

Thanks for reading!

Rob Kelly, Chief Maniac, Daily Doc