There's no shortage of harrowing documentaries, but Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father is one of the most intense. Released in 2008, the film makes the cut as one of the greatest documentaries of all time. Although it's hard to watch, it's a must-see. Cataloging the most poignant Dear Zachary moments may seem like a fool's errand, but to do so is to engage directly with the documentary's most troubling content. Bringing attention to this film, after all, supports the cause of Kate and David Bagby, who, since becoming activists for bail reform, have helped shepherd several positive changes to the Canadian legal system.
If you're unfamiliar with Dear Zachary, it tells the story of Andrew Bagby, a 28-year-old doctor whose life was ended by his ex-lover Shirley Jane Turner. In one of the film's many shocking turns, it's revealed Turner was pregnant with Andrew's child when she took his life, and much of the film follows the efforts of Andrew's parents, Kate and David Bagby, to gain custody of the young child, Zachary.
From here on out, spoilers abound:
Andrew Bagby was a childhood friend of filmmaker Kurt Kuenne, and Kuenne's project began as a "cinematic scrapbook" for Zachary. However, after Turner took her own life as well as the life of 1-year-old Zachary in 2003, Kuenne's focus broadened to tell a larger story of legal injustice, parenting, and (in the case of Kate and David) activism as a form of grief. The result is one of the saddest movies of all time (even the trailer will make you weep) and one of the most disturbing documentaries ever, so grab a box of tissues and read on to relive some of the most compelling aspects of Dear Zachary.