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

Dear_Zachary_A_Letter_to_a_Son_About_His_Father-757347193-large“You still have children, Love Kurt.” – Kurt

Number of Times Seen – 2 (11 Oct 2015 and 11 Jan 2016)

Link to original reviewHere

 I decided to do the format of this review slightly different than usual because it is quite distinct from what I usually post. (it is also the longest review I’ve ever written as of today)

As some of you may know, today January 11th is my 42nd birthday.

Being a movie Blogger who loves to watch and review films, I on average get to watch about 60 movies a month. I try to vary the genres and the release years to make things more interesting but I always try to watch new movies as often as possible to expand my movie knowledge base.

I decided that the best way to ‘celebrate’ my birthday this year would be to watch one of my favorite movies, but making the decision of which one was not an easy one. (Full disclosure, I saw too very mediocre movies from 2015 earlier today and felt the need to really experience a movie on a day like today.)

So I put on my thinking cap and thought about my recently watched new favorites from this past year. In the end I decided to pick a movie that not only has become a new favorite of mine but also one that immediately spoke to me in ways that very few movies ever have. (That says a lot since I’ve seen at last count over 4000 movies in my lifetime).

As you can see from the title of this post, that movie is Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son about his Father (2008).

If you have never seen this movie, I urge you to stop reading this post, read my original non-spoiler review (linked Here), watch the movie and finally after you’ve seen it, absorbed it and even cried a bit (I did both times I’ve watched it) then come back here for a review and analysis full of spoilers.

Ok. Now the rest of this review will be filled with spoilers, so if you haven’t yet seen this movie…again, I urge you to leave now 😉

As I stated earlier, rarely have I experienced a movie that touch me and my life so deeply as this movie has. I have personally felt some of the same fears that the Bagby’s felt during their custody battle with Shirley and the idea of making sure a child would know his father is something I personally always longed for.

My father died when he was 41, actually six days before his 42nd birthday and I therefore never got to know him at all. When asked throughout my life who would I choose if I could have dinner with any person living or dead, my choice was always a simple one.

I have always feared that I myself would not reach the age of 42 and now that I’m here, I really can’t believe how young my father was when he died. I don’t feel old at all and realize how much of life he missed and how much it would have meant to me and my siblings had any of us been privileged with having a friend like Director Kurt Kuenne.

In this movie, Kurt literally brings back to life his best friend of 22 years, Andrew Bagby in order for his recently born son to have a living memorial and video journal of who his father was and what friends and family thought of him.

In the process of creating this image of Andrew for his infant son Zachary, Kurt introduces Andrew to us and within 15 minutes (or even less), I too felt as if I knew him and more importantly felt the tragedy of his untimely and brutal death at the age of 28 when he was murdered by his ex-girlfriend.

Having watched this movie twice, I knew some of the shocking truths that are revealed in this very tragic story and having that knowledge during my second viewing made me even more incensed as to what was allowed to happen by the authorities who did very little to try and stop this from happening because eventhough the signs were there that Shirley Turner had issues, no one could find a way to definitively prove it.

This knowledge might have saved Zachary’s life because she committed one of the most selfish acts a person can commit; she killed herself and Zachary at the same time when she realized that she had no way out and when someone crazy (like her apparently) thinks like that, they say to themselves “if I can’t have Zachary, then no one can”.

None of us have foresight and there truly was no way to know she would commit such a heinous act, but when we watch this all happen on screen in front of us, we cannot help but feel the anger towards this very selfish act.

Andrew’s parents, David and Kate are the real heroes of this story; they lost within less than 2 years, both a son and a grandson due to the unbalanced whims of a mad women and they were helpless to stop it, but still managed to go on living and helping others.

They did all they could and ultimately, it was their reliance on the governmental system that let them down.

At one point in this film, they describe their feelings when they initially receive temporary visitation rights to see and spend time with the infant Zachary.

They talk about how they were searched each time and required to only have supervised visitations where they were scrutinized all the time to make sure they weren’t doing anything wrong.

Their words brought shivers to my spine and I relived personal denigration that I suffered at the hands of my (now) ex-wife during out custody battle for our infant son nearly ten years ago.

My ex claimed that I was a danger to our son, and I was required to see him in a supervised setting once a week.  This whole process use to make me sick because I also felt like I was the only one being scrutinized despite her being the “crazy” and unpredictable one.

The irony in my situation was that during the entire time that I endured this insulting task weekly, I was allowed to have my son every other Friday night still sleep at my house.  If I really was a danger, why did they allow that also.

This was further proof at the absurdity of it all.

I cannot begin to tell you how many times I feared that she would harm my son in some way in order to make sure that I would never get custody.

I even had nightmares that she would kill him and herself just in spite of me.

I am obviously grateful that she never ended up enacting these horrible thoughts of mine, but watching this movie brought back those fears and in many ways, Shirley reminded me of my ex and how I was also on a rebound from a serious relationship prior to meeting her.

What the Bagby’s had to endure is unimaginable and I am very happy that Kurt didn’t stop making this film after the tragic murder of Zachary.

In this movie (and in the epilogue that can be found here –, we see how this unnecessary tragedy was able to change the law and save countless others from suffering the same fate as Zachary.  This is to the credit of both the Bagby’s and to Kurt Kuenne for making this movie.  Having this case documented on tape was essential in the path to the change in the law.

I really loved the style that Kuenne uses in this movie of telling the story via excellent editing and was amused to see similar techniques that he also used in some of his short films that I have recently seen after seeing this movie and finding out how great a filmmaker he is.

His music that he composed for this film is so subtle and moving and fits in with the story so well.

My only regret (and I’ve even told this to Kurt himself via Twitter conversations that we’ve had) is that he doesn’t make more movies, because he is truly an innovative and unique filmmaker.

His ability to create a film where anyone who watches it will feel like they knew Andrew Bagby for years and also feel his and Zachary’s losses on a personal level is amazing.

This is a deeply moving movie, but it still gives one a feeling of hope at the end that unfortunately thru a tragedy like this, more potential tragedies can be hopefully averted.

I think that Kurt’s message to the Bagby’s that they have so many children in the world is more true than ever after watching how much love all the people in Andrew’s life gave to Zachary and to them throughout the years.

I wish I had known Andrew and the film really is a true explanation as to how one life can touch so many even after 14 years.

I believe that the fact that Kuenne made a very personal film helped make it even more powerful for us the viewers because the whole movie resonates with personal touches that only a true friend could add which in turn helps us to also feel as if we knew Andrew.

This is one of the best movies I have ever seen and I plan to watch it over and over in the future.

Rating – Oscar Worthy (no change from original review)

31 thoughts on “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008) – Encore Review

  1. Happy birthday, Rob! I still need to see this, so I only read up to your warning, but I must give this film a look-see (and then come finish your post). I think any movie that makes someone genuinely cry has a special place in their heart.

    Liked by 1 person

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  3. Wow! Wow! Great review, Rob. I can only imagine watching this story in your shoes. It was earth shattering enough on its own. Life isn’t fair. It’s tragic what happens. Every kid deserves a father who loves them. No matter how much time is spent together, every moment is a pearl. Make a string of them, Rob.

    I really enjoyed the long form review. I would love even further exploration. Consider this format for the next movie that means something. They -are- rare, but I’m looking forward to it.

    Amazing documentary folks. Like Rob says, it really is one of the best movies ever.

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. Rob, I totally agree this movie is good and infuriating. Don’t hate me but I don’t really think of this documentary as a movie though. It’s like an investigative journalism piece like Snapped, 48 hours, Dateline … But as such it is really a remarkable story and I’m so glad I watched it tonight as a result of your review! I think she was mentally ill and it’s astonishing that judge let her out. Thanks again.


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