Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

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

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Kurt Kuenne
Produced by Kurt Kuenne
Written by Kurt Kuenne
Music by Kurt Kuenne
Cinematography Kurt Kuenne
Editing by Kurt Kuenne
Studio MSNBC Films
Distributed by Oscilloscope Laboratories
Release date(s) October 31, 2008
Running time 95 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father is a 2008 American documentary film conceived and created by Kurt Kuenne.

Kuenne's close friend Andrew Bagby was murdered by Shirley Jane Turner after Bagby ended their tumultuous relationship. Shortly after she was arrested, she announced she was pregnant with Bagby's child, a boy she named Zachary. Kuenne decided to interview numerous relatives, friends, and associates of Andrew Bagby and incorporate their loving remembrances into a film that would serve as a cinematic scrapbook for the son who never knew him.

The film premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival and was shown at Cinequest Film Festival, South by Southwest, the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, the Sarasota Film Festival, the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, the Calgary International Film Festival, and the Edmonton International Film Festival, among others, before going into limited theatrical release in the United States, opening in one city at a time in select metropolitan areas. It was broadcast by MSNBC on December 7, 2008 and has been repeated several times since.

Kuenne is donating all profits from the film to a scholarship established in the names of Andrew and Zachary Bagby.[1]



The filmmaker is a childhood friend of Bagby, and when he begins making home movies, Bagby frequently appears in them. As they become more professional in quality in later years, Bagby invests in them as well. Bagby is a 28-year-old medical student when he meets Shirley Jane Turner, a twice-divorced Canadian American general practitioner thirteen years his senior. Bagby's parents, friends, and associates are wary of the relationship, but initially Turner seems to keep Bagby grounded and relatively free of stress as he pursues his career. Turner lives and works in Council Bluffs, Iowa, while Bagby works as a resident in family practice in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Eventually, the relationship crumbles and they separate. Turner returns to her home but then drives almost 1,000 miles overnight to meet Bagby at a local park on November 5, 2001. Bagby's body is discovered there the following day, face down with five gunshot wounds.[2]

Turner becomes the prime suspect in the murder investigation. Facing extensive evidence against her, she flees to St. John's, Newfoundland. Extradition proceedings are initiated as Turner reveals she is pregnant with Bagby's child. While extradition is pending, Turner is not held in custody. She gives birth to a boy she names Zachary. Bagby's parents David and Kathleen move from Sunnyvale, California to Canada, determined to gain custody of their grandson and obtain Turner's rendition for a Pennsylvania trial.

In late 2002, a Supreme Court justice in Newfoundland rules that there is sufficient evidence for an American or Canadian jury to conclude Turner killed Bagby, and she is taken into custody. Turner writes to a judge and receives a response detailing how to appeal her arrest and subsequent hold in jail. Turner is released by Justice Gale Welsh, who feels she has exhibited no behavior that suggests she poses a threat to society in general. Turner thus regains custody of Zachary. On August 18, 2003, Turner, carrying the 13-month-old infant Zachary, jumps into the Atlantic Ocean from a fishing wharf in Foxtrap; both perish.[3]

Critical reception

Peter Debruge of Variety called the film "a virtuoso feat in editing" and noted, "The way Kuenne presents the material, with an aggressive style that lingers less than a second on most shots, it's impossible not to feel emotionally exhausted."[4]

Martin Tsai of the New York Sun said the film "has so many unexpected developments that it plays like a first-rate thriller . . . and the film is so unsettling that it will stay with viewers for a long time. Like . . . The Thin Blue Line, Dear Zachary borrows some narrative dramatic tricks, and they pay off remarkably well. It's hands down one of the most mind-blowing true-crime movies in recent memory, fiction or nonfiction."[5]

The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures named the film one of the five top documentaries of the year. Among those who named it one of the best films of 2008 were Time Out Chicago, The Oregonian, the Times Herald-Record, Slant Magazine, and WGN Radio Chicago.[6] The website Film School Rejects place the film in third place in their 30 Best Films of the Decade list.[7]

Awards and nominations

The Chicago Film Critics Association nominated the film Best Documentary. The Society of Professional Journalists presented it with its Sigma Delta Chi Award for Best Documentary, it received the Special Jury and Audience Awards at the Cinequest Film Festival, it was named an Audience Favorite at Hot Docs, it received the Audience Awards at the St. Louis International Film Festival and the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, and it was named Best Documentary at the Orlando Film Festival.[6]


External links

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