The Jacob Wetterling Documentary

Back in August of 2015, just weeks before Danny Heinrich was arrested as a suspect in Jacob Wetterling’s kidnapping, a local filmmaker approached Patty Wetterling with the idea of making a documentary about Jacob’s story. His name was Chris Newberry and they were just in the early talking phases at that point. After a few more conversations, the Wetterlings agreed to let Chris begin filming later that fall.

That’s when all hell broke loose.

From the very first day Chris began filming, he was right there in the thick of it, recording and watching history unfold as the mystery of Jacob’s 27-year-old disappearance came to a painful and dramatic conclusion.

Now, three and a half years later, Chris Newberry is finally nearing the completion of his documentary film. While filming for the “Jacob Wetterling Documentary” (a working title) is starting to wrap up, Chris and his team will soon begin the arduous process of editing together hundreds of hours of video footage in order to prepare a rough cut for potential distributors.

That takes time. And money.

Chris and his team just launched a fundraising campaign this week with a goal of raising $60,000 to help complete the film. It has been a labor of love – a legacy project for Jacob – and many of us have poured our hearts out onscreen trying to explain how Jacob’s disappearance not only changed the world, but also changed us.


For those of you who have followed Jacob’s story on my blog, this is your chance to support the film and contribute to Jacob Wetterling’s ongoing legacy. I promise I have no financial interest in this film, nor do the Wetterlings, nor anyone else for that matter. It’s simply a story that needs to be told, and with our help, Chris Newberry and his team can enter the final phase of production to get it done.

Click here to contribute to the GoFundMe campaign

When Chris told me he was going to launch a crowdsourcing campaign to help fund the film, I admit I was apprehensive. I know very little about the film industry or how these things work, so I had a lot of questions. He graciously took the time to answer all of them for me and asked for nothing in return. He is a kind, caring, honest person who has put much of his own heart and soul into this project.

I thought long and hard before deciding to write this article. I hate asking people for money, but I so want to see this film get done… and get done right. I also figured if I had a lot of questions, others would, too, so I asked Chris if he would mind if I interviewed him for an article on my blog. Again, he graciously agreed.

This seems like a huge story with a lot of interest. Why do you need funding? Is this common?

We’re an independent filmmaking team based in Minnesota, so we’re not a Hollywood entity coming in from out of town trying to tell a story from the heartland. This is a hometown story for us because we live here. Jacob is one of us.

Being an independent documentary crew, our resources are very minimal. We’ve been working on this project for three and a half years, and, to date, it’s mostly been through blood, sweat, and tears.  We received a little bit of funding early on from the Minnesota State Arts Board, but that was spent long ago.

We believe in Jacob’s story, and we hope that someday it’s going to find a bigger audience on a national platform. We can’t depend on that though. For an independent documentary of such a large scale, it’s pretty common to claw your way to this point and then have to pause and start fundraising when the expenses start to mount.

Our hope is that once we get a rough cut edited, we’ll get to a stage where resources will be easier to come by, once broadcasters and funders can see the vision. There are so many true crime stories out there right now, the field can be very competitive. However, so many of them focus their attention on the more sensational films and series. What we’re trying to do is something with integrity.

Assuming you reach your fundraising goal, how will the funds be used?

We are putting together a high quality film that we want everyone to be proud of once it’s done. That takes a lot of experience, plus the tools to do it, and that’s where the expenses come in. 

Our first step will be to hire an experienced film editor who can help us pull everything together to make this the best possible film it can be.

Why crowdfunding?

From previous experience raising money for films, it takes a multi-faceted approach with many different options for support. Crowdfunding is just one of them. We know Jacob’s story has touched so many people, especially in Minnesota, so it seemed like a natural fit. Many Minnesotans have sort of “adopted” Jacob after following his story for so many years. This is their chance to show their support. We wanted to giving everybody a chance to have a part in the making of this film.

Starting in May, we’ll also be hosting a series of Trailer Release Parties to help raise additional funds for the film. Each event will feature an exclusive sneak peek of the new film, as well as speakers from the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center (or other local child advocacy groups) and a conversation with the filmmakers.

Click here to view the list of trailer release parties and to buy tickets.

Are contributions tax deductible?

For those who wish to make a larger donation and get a tax deduction, we are set up to do that. Larger donors can make their contribution through FilmNorth, our fiscal sponsor. They are a 501(c)(3). More information is available on the Contribute page of our website.

Why do you feel you are the right person to tell this story?

I’m a Minnesota kid, born and raised here. I currently live in Minneapolis with my wife and two daughters. I was 14 when Jacob was abducted, and I remember it well. I watched the whole thing unfold on the news back in 1989, and it really affected me. The mystery of what happened to Jacob was always with me, just like it was for most Minnesotans. 

I’d like to believe I have the compassion and sensitivity to navigate the telling of the story. My first contact was Alison Feigh at the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center. There was a billboard campaign back in the fall of 2014 surrounding the 25 year anniversary of Jacob’s disappearance. I researched his case for almost a year before I finally got up the nerve in August of 2015 to send a cold email to Alison. Bless her soul, she got back to me within a half hour, and five days later, I was sitting down with Patty and Alison in Minneapolis and having a “getting to know you” meeting.

What do you think it is about Jacob’s story that made people have the kind or response that they did? Why has it resonated all these years? Why has Minnesota rallied around this family?

Many people told me it had a lot to do with Jacob’s photo… his electric, magnetic smile. That school photo of him in his gold sweater is such a recognizable image, it helped form a connection for the wider public and made us all empathize for Jacob and his family. We all wanted to find out what happened to this boy.

Another factor is the circumstances of the case. Sadly, there are thousands of missing children in the U.S., but very few of their stories involve such chilling details as Jacob’s. He was kidnapped by a stranger, a masked gunman who came out of the shadows and stole Jacob away right off his own street. His younger brother and best friend were with him when it happened, so we knew it was real because there were eyewitness accounts. If you wrote it in a novel, it almost sounds too far-fetched, but it really happened, right here in small town Minnesota.

And, of course, the other key resonating factor is Patty. The story of how this unassuming person rose up and became this national advocate for missing and exploited children may have just as much to do with the public’s attachment to this story as Jacob himself.

Are the Wetterlings supportive of this project?

Yes. It was really important to me, right from the beginning, to get the Wetterlings’ blessing. It was also important to me to hear the story in Patty and Jerry’s own words, and I feel really fortunate that this journey has allowed me to spend many, many hours on several different occasions speaking one-on-one with them. At this point, we’ve formed a pretty substantial bond that’s built on trust. I feel like I have an incredible responsibility to several people in the film who’ve given up their time, and also shared their deeply emotional feelings with me. I feel very honored to have been given all this access.

When will the film be completed?

We hope to have a rough cut completed by the end of the year, with the final version available in mid 2020. We’re doing our best to get it done as soon as possible, and that’s where the community’s support comes in.

Anything else you’d like to add?

When I first started this project, I always considered Jacob Wetterling a household name because it is here in Minnesota. But, when I started interacting with people around the country, I started to realize Jacob’s story wasn’t as familiar to people outside the state. Even though it’s been almost 30 years, this is a story that is still in need of a national platform. It needs to be told.

There are all these inspiring people at the center of the story, none moreso than Patty herself, but there are also all these others who are doing good work in Jacob’s name. They are Minnesota treasures, and people across the country don’t know their stories. So, to me, I want to share Jacob’s story with the world, but also to raise up the profiles of some of these other people so Americans can be inspired by the examples they’ve set. 

You can show your support for this film by making a contribution of any amount to Chris Newberry’s GoFundMe campaign…

Thank you for your support!


  1. Will the documentary be shown on a TV channel people will be able to see even if you don’t have cable,or be in theatres?

  2. joy.the.curious |


    Possibly, but it just depends who picks up the film. It could be a network broadcaster, a streaming service, or who knows.

  3. M. Shirley Chong |

    Has Dan Rassier been given an opportunity to clear his name and to express the mental trauma he and his family were put through due to the poor quality of the initial investigation?

  4. joy.the.curious |

    M. Shirley Chong,

    Not long after the resolution of Jacob’s case, Dan Rassier filed a lawsuit against the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office. Litigation is still ongoing.

  5. Maybe one of our local news channels would tell their audience that this documentary is being made and they have launched a fundraiser to keep the project moving. I think it would be a good way to get attention for the film and raise money. This is a very important story for most Minnesotans.

Leave a Reply