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Dear Zachary: A Letter to His Son About His Father (2008)

11 04 2012

Copyright 2008 MSNBC Films

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Maddie wanted to watch this one on Netflix Instant Watch.  I read the description, and was not at all interested; however, once she started playing it, I found myself straying from the iPad to the television screen within a couple minutes.

Without giving too much of the story away, this film chronicles the journey of documentary filmmaker Kurt Kuenne in compiling video footage of his childhood friend, Dr. Andrew Bagby, who was the victim of a suspicious murder.  Bagby’s assailant was thought to be his estranged girlfriend at the time, Dr. Shirley Turner, 12 years his senior.  After the murder, it was found that she was pregnant with Bagby’s child, Zachary, whose name is where the title derives.  Through interviews with family, friends, colleagues, extended family and others, this film tries to piece together the pieces of Bagby’s life for his young son, as well as analyze the crimes of Shirley Turner.

Kuenne borrows heavily from the style of Errol Morris in his presentation of the facts in this film, and it works wonderfully.  I have always felt the Morris style exudes a sort of narrative progression to real life events that keeps the viewer not only informed, but also entertained and engaged in the subject matter.  There are surprises along the way, and the case becomes more and more involved as the film progresses.  Furthermore, being that the filmmaker was a childhood friend of the victim, this movie carries a very personal and heartfelt vision throughout.  Rather than being just a wallflower to the events, as many documentaries are, Kuenne uncovers elements about a man that was like a brother to him, which makes the filmmaker himself an engaged participant in the story.

This is a beautifully done work that advocates a powerful message.  I will warn that it is almost impossible to watch this film without eliciting a strong emotional reaction.  Even the least emotional of people will likely have a hard time keeping dry eyes through this movie.

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2 responses

11 04 2012
AndyWatchesMovies

One of the greatest documentaries I’ve ever seen. Should be required viewing.

21 04 2012
JesBlank

I feel almost ashamed to say I have never heard of “Dear Zachary,” despite having taken a documentary course and a general documentary lover. What is even more surprising is that I admire Morris’ work (specifically “The Thin Blue Line”) for the same reasons as you: his portrayal of the ‘truth.’ Have you read an interview with Errol Morris? He has stated, quite rightly so, that with “The Thin Blue Line” he wanted to make a film about “how truth is difficult to know but not impossible to know.” I think this can be applied to the context of documentary filmmaking in general, its such a broad label nowadays – what really IS documentary?

Looking forward to watching “Dear Zachary” now – thanks for the tip!

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