What is the most emotional experience you have ever had from watching a movie?
What is that one film, more than any other, that left an indelible mark on your consciousness?
What is that singular feature that you will never forget, never shake, always reflect upon — and well up with emotion whenever you do?
For so many of those who have seen it, “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father” is that film.
Dear Zachary is a documentary that first aired on MSNBC in 2008, and acts as a message of love and testimony for a boy named Zachary Andrew Turner, the infant child of filmmaker Kurt Kuenne’s closest childhood friend, Andrew Bagby.
Andrew Bagby was a young doctor from Northern California who practiced medicine in Latrobe, Pennsylvania and who enjoyed widespread respect and admiration from colleagues and friends—before he was tragically murdered in November of 2001 by his girlfriend, Shirley Turner.
Following Andrew’s murder, at a time when Shirley was being investigated for the killing, she announced that she was pregnant with Andrew’s son, Zachary. This disclosure came as an enormous shock and surprise to all of those left grieving Andrew’s loss.
Upon learning of Zachary’s impeding birth, Keunne set out to travel across America, Canada and the United Kingdom to interview those who knew and loved Andrew, gathering footage and tributes for the young doctor, so that young Zachary could one day appreciate his father’s talent, character, and the extent to which he positively affected the lives of those he touched.
What begins as a tale of bittersweet remembrance, however, soon takes a dark turn when Shirley absconds to Newfoundland, Canada with Zachary. This forces Andrew’s parents, David and Kathleen, to relocate to the remote Canadian province as well, in order to be close to their grandson and to fight for his custody.
The events that further unfold within the story will shock and infuriate you; they will jar you with their legal complexity and overwhelm you with emotional grievance; in the end you will likely struggle to make sense of the full emotional impact of watching what has unfolded.
It is, however, the kindness and perseverance that David and Kathleen display throughout their ordeal that proves to be nothing if not extraordinary. Dear Zachary ultimately serves as not only a letter of love to Andrew, but a profoundly moving tribute to his parents as well. It is their compassion and humanity that brings so much light and inspiration to a story of so much poignancy and pathos.
Dear Zachary comes as highly recommended as any film you may come across. Take the time to experience Dear Zachary, and to celebrate the incredibly impassioned storytelling at hand from beginning to end.