Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

What begins as a poignant tribute to filmmaker Kurt Kuenne's dead best friend snowballs into a gut-wrenching true-crime story in "Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father."

With: David Bagby, Kathleen Bagby, Andrew Bagby, Zachary Andrew, Heather Arnold, Shirley Turner, Kurt Kuenne.

What begins as a poignant tribute to filmmaker Kurt Kuenne’s dead best friend snowballs into a gut-wrenching true-crime story in “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father,” a film that, like the twist-filled events it covers, isn’t always what it appears to be. Though presented as a visual scrapbook for the victim’s son Zachary, Kuenne initiated the project before learning Andrew Bagby’s unstable ex-lover was pregnant with their unborn son when the murder was committed. By addressing the memorial to young Zachary, Kuenne lands on a human-interest hook that has made the pic the talk of Slamdance.

Kuenne would probably be the first to admit he’s crafted a shamelessly manipulative version of events, one that works best for audiences who know nothing about the case (which was widely publicized in “Dance With the Devil,” a bestseller written by Andrew’s father, David Bagby). Considering how much more tragedy lies in store, one can hardly fault the helmer for using the elements at his disposal — from a button-pushing piano score to saintly photos and homevideos left behind — to transform his personal tribute into a full-blown polemic. As dozens of oncamera interviews show, those who survived Andrew were angry and hurt by his murder, and the film will leave auds feeling no differently.

Popular on Variety

When they were kids, Andrew Bagby starred in all Kuenne’s amateur movies, which means the helmer has boxes of footage of his friend. “Dear Zachary” is, above all, a virtuoso feat in editing, and Kuenne uses the material at his disposal to devastating effect. For example, a short film about time travel, in which Bagby can be seen saying, “I’ll go back in time and stop people dying,” takes on a painful new irony in this context.

Rather than letting friends and family share specific memories onscreen, Kuenne blends them together in sweeping, rapidly edited montages. The stories dissolve into one another, leaving audiences with an impressionistic sense of Bagby’s legacy — a succession of smiling faces, it turns out, can say as much as hours of longwinded testimonials.

As for Shirley Turner, the 40-year-old woman (Andrew was 28) who drove 1,600 miles to shoot Andrew after they broke up, Kuenne selects the least flattering footage possible. By crosscutting between court papers and pathological phone messages to Andrew’s parents, Kuenne captures a sense of this deeply disturbed woman.

But there’s more to Turner than meets the eye, and “Dear Zachary” switches gears, attacking the system and the individuals who allowed “a probably premeditated first-degree murderer go free.”

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.

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

Production: Produced, directed, written, edited by Kurt Kuenne.

Crew: Camera (color DV), Kuenne; music, Kuenne; sound, Kuenne. Reviewed on DVD, Park City, Utah. (In Slamdance Film Festival), Jan. 22, 2008. Running time: 95 MIN.

With: With: David Bagby, Kathleen Bagby, Andrew Bagby, Zachary Andrew, Heather Arnold, Shirley Turner, Kurt Kuenne.

More Film

  • Kevin Hart, Jason Statham Heading for

    Jason Statham and Kevin Hart Heading for 'The Man From Toronto' Comedy

    Jason Statham and Kevin Hart are in talks to star in action comedy “The Man From Toronto,” which Sony Pictures will release on Nov. 20. Patrick Hughes, who directed “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” and “The Expendables 3,” will direct”The Man From Toronto” from a script by Robbie Fox, from a story by Fox and Jason Blumenthal. [...]

  • High Fidelity

    What’s Coming to Hulu in February 2020

    Next month, Hulu will ring in Valentine’s Day with some counterprogramming. The streaming service will debut its original series “High Fidelity,” a gender-swapped reimagining of Nick Hornby’s novel of the same name. Previously, the book was adapted into a 2000 movie from Stephen Frears starring John Cusack. Zoë Kravitz stars as Rob Brooks, a music-obsessive [...]

  • Wes Anderson

    Wes Anderson's 'French Dispatch' Sets Summer Release

    Wes Anderson’s star-studded comedic drama “The French Dispatch” will debut in theaters on July 24, Searchlight Pictures announced Wednesday. “The French Dispatch” is set in Paris during the 1950s and follows a group of journalists at an American newspaper bureau. The ensemble cast includes Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Lea Seydoux, Frances McDormand, [...]

  • Hillary Clinton Hulu Documentary

    Hillary Clinton Documentary Sells to Sky for U.K. Audiences (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Hillary,” a four-hour docuseries about the life and career of Hillary Clinton, has sold to Sky for U.K. distribution rights, Variety has learned. Clinton sat down for 35 hours of interviews with director Nanette Burstein (“On the Ropes”). The project premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival to strong reviews, for offering an honest portrait [...]

  • Rhythm Section Movie

    Will Blake Lively's 'Rhythm Section' Fumble at the Box Office on Super Bowl Weekend?

    Ticket sales could grind to a halt over Super Bowl weekend, a notoriously quiet time of year at the box office. Two new movies are opening — Paramount’s spy thriller “The Rhythm Section” and Orion Pictures’ fantasy adventure “Gretel & Hansel” — though each is expected to make less than $10 million. Since the Super [...]

  • The Fight ACLU Documentary

    ACLU Sundance Doc 'The Fight' Headed to Magnolia Pictures

    Magnolia Pictures is wrapping up a low-seven-figure deal for distribution rights to the moving documentary “The Fight,” insiders told Variety. Premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the project is directed by Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, and Eli Despres. CAA and Submarine are brokering the deal on behalf of financiers. The directors also served as [...]

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    Quentin Tarantino on Re-Creating 1960s L.A. for 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'

    Quentin Tarantino’s earliest memory of Los Angeles was as a young boy visiting Grauman’s Chinese Theater, standing in the courtyard and looking at the handprints of John Wayne and Roy Rogers. He recollects the Mold-A-Rama machine outside that dispensed a souvenir wax pagoda if you inserted a quarter. The director had toyed with re-creating that [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content