Dear Zachary: a letter to a son about his father

This film will hurt you.

That’s my only warning; “Dear Zachary: a letter to a son about his father” (2008) is one of the more unusual documentaries I’ve ever seen. In 2001, Dr. Andrew Bagby was murdered; the most likely suspect was his ex-girlfriend, Dr. Shirley Turner. After some initial questioning from the police, she fled to her hometown in Newfoundland, Canada. While the initial extradition hearings were proceeding, she announced she was pregnant with Bagby’s baby. In the wake of the news of the pregnancy and Turner’s release from jail during the hearings’ delay, Andrew’s parents, Kate and David Bagby, moved to Newfoundland to fight for custody of their grandson.

Kurt Kuenne was a lifelong friend of Andrew, and the film is his attempt to give Zachary a chance to know the father he would never meet. So, he drove cross country and interviewed all the people across the country, and even across the ocean, who Andrew loved, just so his infant son could someday have an idea of the man his father was.

Of course, Andrew isn’t the real subject of the documentary; Kate and David were forced to interact daily with the woman who likely (I hate hedging, but it’s called libel, folks) murdered their only child. Andrew loved and was loved in his short life, but his parents are the ones who raised him that way, and they fought their hardest to be able to raise their grandson in the same spirit. “Dear Zachary” is really a love letter to them and about their journey through grief.

One unique aspect of “Dear Zachary” is how close Kuenne is to the subject; there is not a “Bus 174″ level of objectivity here. In fact, I’d say Kuenne is manipulative as hell because he loves his subject so much and needs to get the audience on his side so they can experience his grief. Just this once, I’m okay with that. I think there’s a point where it’s inappropriate to ask someone to be objective, and “Dear Zachary” is Exhibit A; it’s more powerful for its lack of objectivity, and it couldn’t have been made any other way.

“Dear Zachary” is one sided, it’s makes no attempt at understanding the accused and is unapologetic in its rage. It’s brutal filmmaking and an emotional experience that will haunt you.

See it if you dare.

“Dear Zachary: a letter to a son about his father” (2008)

Directed by Kurt Kuenne