Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father
October 31, 2008
95 min

Written and Directed by Kurt Kuenne

This harrowing tale grips you from the onset down to the very last word and will stick with you ever after. Few works match the passion and fury found in the subjects and the filmmaking. The result it has on viewers is nothing short of a miracle. "Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father" is required viewing for each and every one.


I saw this film over a year ago. It was February 23rd, 2011. Allow me to type what I wrote in my journal that night:

"Today is the day I watched 'Dear Zachary' - this will be a day to remember. Without a doubt one of the most emotional films I have ever seen. Perhaps the best doc I have ever seen and perhaps one of the best films I have ever seen. It goes without starring, ★.
I cried more than I have in any other film. Called Nancy, endorsing it, she ended up watching it. Called my folks, sobbing and told them how much I love and appreciate them."


Well, now that any goals I may have had to keep The Film Tome void of oversentimental moments are shattered, perhaps I can provide an orthodox critique of this film... Wait, can I? No, I cannot. This is such a personal film. It is perfect that I had such a personal reaction. Now, I will continue in delivering a personal review.


Kurt Kuenne, the maker of this film, had a dear childhood friend in Andrew Bagby. Among their boyish activities they would produce home-made movies. (Oh, how I can relate to this! When I was younger I was outside with my camera every Saturday. I would employ the neighborhood kids as unpaid actors and we made dozens of horrible movies.)  Flash-forward to when Kurt and Andrew are in their late 20s. Andrew is a medical student and Kurt is still making movies. Andrew begins dating an older Canadian-American woman, Shirley Turner. She lives and works in Iowa while he lives and works in Pennsylvania. When they find occasion to be together, Shirley makes others uncomfortable, but she seems to make Andrew happy. Others permit the relationship like any good friend or family member would. After all, Andrew is an adult. Then the romance between Andrew and Shirley wilts and ends. Not long after the break-up, Shirley arrives in his town, having driven nearly 1,000 miles overnight. Andrew agrees to meet her at a local park. 

Andrew is found the next day laying on his face in the parking lot. He was shot five times. Andrew is dead. Kurt begins making this documentary.


At this point, the film's focus switches from Andrew Bagby to David and Kathleen Bagby, his parents. The murder of Andrew, their only child, brings their lives to a screeching halt. There's quiet horror until they catch their breaths. It is highly remarkable how the film captures these emotions through the rhythm in which interviews, home video, and photographs are delivered. Some scenes move a mile a second, others let it all hang there, heavy in the air with despondency. David and Kathleen's lives do not pause. They contemplate killing themselves. Together they somehow manage to live. Time marches on and sorrow is truly known.


Since the documentary is underway at this point, we are all shocked to learn that Shirley (the woman the Bagbys are sure killed their only child) is pregnant with their now only living heir, baby Zachary. After all, Kurt is making this documentary for this child. He wants Zachary to know who his father was and who his grandparents are. As David and Kathleen fight for their grandson from the hands of "that woman," we can only sit stiffly wondering how it is all going to end. 


I exhort you to cease from further research and just go see this film for yourself. This is a documentary I recommend full-heartedly with no reservations to any adult viewer. From Kurt Kuenne's relationship with the subjects, to the intimate interviews and examinations he conducts, to the effect it will undoubtedly have upon you, "Dear Zachary" is such a personal film. It is more gripping than a successful Hollywood thriller, more moving than a romantic drama, and more important than most things we sit before.  There is real hatred to be seen and true love to be felt. You need to open this letter.


CONTENT: strong language and mature elements

1 comment:

Thomas Watson said...

If anybody hasn't seen this documentary already then they should do so immediately.