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

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9/10
A stunner
crappydoo12 July 2008
I just completed watching this harrowing documentary and it is only now that, having got the time to catch my breath, I am able to review it.

To begin with, I'd recommend not reading any of the other reviews so that you start watching it with absolutely no foreknowledge, and so that the film gets the opportunity to have the impact that it is designed to have, which, in my opinion, would only be fair to the director. Therefore without revealing the story I would only like to mention that this is a documentary that the film maker has made in remembrance of his close friend and his family; and its a bloody good watch.

The direction is great and the best part is that this documentary is made in 'real time'; which means that events unfold as the film progresses. This is probably something that I've never experienced in any other documentary before, since most of them are made in retrospect. It makes its point clean and crisp and it will certainly not be a waste of your time and money.

The film progresses in a quick and efficient manner and the time just seems to fly. The film is narrated in a very smart way with plenty of smash cuts. This documentary plays like a big budget commercial Hollywood film and will probably have you glued right up to the last minute.

So its good stuff. If you get the chance to watch it I'd recommend it. If you don't, well that's just too bad.
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10/10
Inspiration through loss.
shannon-13626 August 2008
It started out as a remembrance for a son about his father and it became so much more.

I saw this film Sunday and it still resides in my heart and haunts me. This is the first documentary I have ever seen that has drawn me in completely, and made me feel as though I am part of the story and a friend to the victim. It was a roller-coaster of emotions and there were quite a few teary-eyed people by the end. I feel I had to give it a proper review, but like many have stated, it's hard to do so without ruining the effect the filmmaker intends. This story pulls you along and unfolds as it does for our narrator, the filmmaker, Kurt Kunne. His story is personal because he grew up with the central figure, Dr. Andrew Bagby.

Andrew's parents, David and Kate, whom I had a chance to meet with after the screening, are lovely people, and I instantly saw why they foster so much love and support throughout the film: They are genuinely kind people who give off a wonderful parental-vibe. They show so much love and hope in the face of almost insurmountable evil. You hold onto their love and hope through the last few minutes, and eventually you find what the narrator finds: inspiration.

The editing and the directing reveal a truly gifted filmmaker, Mr. Kunne, a superb storyteller, bounces back and forth between past and present events. He reveals what happens at several key points which leads us an ending you should rather just see than have me explain.

From what I've read there were several richly deserved standing ovations as the film ventured into the festival circuit. If you have a chance to see, "Dear Zachary," this film will be playing until Thursday of this week at the arc-light cinemas in Hollywood. The filmmaker, Kurt, said the film will be making a return to Hollywood in early November and shall be coming to New York City in late October, MSNBC will be premiering the film December 7th and the DVD shall go on sale some time in mid-FEBRUARY.

I suggest everyone pays their money to see this film for the sake of advocacy groups and to support bail reform in Canada. Although the legal system in Canada is put on trial in this documentary, it reveals a real problem with our own justice system here in the United States, and how some criminals are given preferential treatment over victims and their families' rights.

I cannot tell you how much this film has affected me. How truly inspirational I find David Bagby and Kate Bagby to be…

Please support Academy caliber documentaries, with a strong sense of heart, and a great message of hope. This is a wonderful, albeit tragic and yet inspiring film.
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10/10
Experience the Life of the Bagbys
rishi6212 February 2009
This is one of the best movies I have ever seen. I have never been affected by a movie as much as this. Ever since i saw this movie, I have not been able to get the story out of my head. The way Kurt uses home movies and interviews to capture the essence of Andrew is perfect. I feel like i know and love the Bagby family. The film takes you through Andrews life showing the people that he touched along the way. The quote that really stuck with me was when Clark said something along the lines of "What would life be if this one person never existed". This is very relevant because of this movie to this day Andrew is affecting the lives of people that he never met including mine. He has inspired me to really cherish the relationships that I have, because life is too short for petty things. I have never cried in a movie, but this movie managed to get me to cry within the first 20 minutes. I am not a movie critic so i do not know how to write a review, all you gotta do is watch the movie. You are doing yourself a disservice if you miss this beautiful tribute. Much love to the Bagby friends and family.
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10/10
Groundbreaking Roller Coaster Few Will See
dalefried5 July 2008
One of the pleasures of an all access pass to film festivals is the opportunity to be drawn to something by word of mouth. I was accidentally standing outside the theatre after the first viewing of this film at the Sarasota Film Festival. Everyone coming out was raving about it, a film that I had originally pegged as just another manipulative true crime documentary. Most had been crying like babies. My freedom at the venue allowed me to change from a viewing of Priceless to this film. I had no idea I was waking into a wall of cinematic fury.

To say it was staggering is inadequate. The impact of it all is in part driven by style. Though the form is a traditional overlapping story structure, the frenetic pace of the presentation creates a sense many times of 'too much information'. Mixed in however are some stylistic tricks that act as accent marks to move your perception to one place versus others. This moves your feelings in one direction or another within the time frame of larger movements of emotion that drive the story. The technique, though not unique, is applied in the course of a story that would seem to demand more subtly, however, it works wonderfully. Could it be that within this piece of time about a very personal tragedy a new documentary form emerges?

But the story and the trek to get through it are what keeps you glued. I will not go into the morphology of the multiplex of stories here since it would ruin the impact. Leave it to say that constant unexpected change ups give one the feeling you are on a roller coaster of emotional complexity. The net effect leaves you nearly breathless and, as one sobbing young woman I convinced to see the film told me, in desperate need of water.

The film ends with a seemingly endless list of all involved, most at least tangentially affected by the event if not actually in the film content. As you absorb the story's impact, consider that the true theme of the film is to introduce you to this virtual community of people discovered by this young filmmaker who started with an homage to his best friend and ended up capturing something far more profound.

There are many moments where we try to take solace in the good that can come from the horrid. After viewing this, ask yourself that even though all involved would have wished for the events not to have happened, the emotional fulfillment exuding from this film may have left all surviving the better for it. This filmmaker's love letter to his vastly extended family that grew out of the tragedy and his odyssey documenting it make for the kind of things we most look forward to in the cinema.
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10/10
An absolute Must See
Jenn Brown15 March 2008
I cannot praise this heartfelt documentary enough. Too often documentaries with such a personal tie have touch (or more) of vanity. Not Dear Zachary.

Kurt Kuenne could have easily turn this tribute to a dead friend into a vanity project, or overly sentimental. The evolution of this project is full of sentiment, indeed, but is done so in such a way that the viewer is completely engaged in the story and feels the loss on a personal level.

This is the hardest film to review because to explain it, is to spoil the experience of it. Let's just say that Andrew Bagby was a very loved person, and this tribute to a man whose life was brutally cut short could have easily been a depressing, dark tale. Instead, while it has some wrenching moments, it's ultimately a love story of family and friends, and the powerful influence people can have in each others lives, for good and for ill.

If you have the opportunity to catch this film, do not hesitate to do it. This is one I'm adding to my DVD collection as soon as it's available.
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10/10
"I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on."
droopfozz7 November 2008
Dear Zachary Dir. Kurt Kuenne ***** "Perhaps it's done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on."-Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable That final sentence, from one of the great novels of all-time, works here as a description of the heart and soul of this film, the best I've seen all year. Kurt Kuenne sets out to find all there is to know about his murdered friend Andrew Bagby after talking with friends who knew parts about Andrew's life that he never told Kurt. Shortly after stating this endeavor it is revealed that the woman who killed Andrew is also pregnant with his son. Kurt then decides to make the film into a memorial to give to Andrew's son, Zachary.

This is a film that is a search for its filmmaker, a search which ultimately finds itself asking the most unanswerable of questions. The unfolding of the events surrounding the search cause Kuenne to revisit his approach, his interview subjects, and allows the audience a personal look into an artist trying to make sense of the impossible (in fact, the film was never meant to be released except to family members).

Nearly a decade in the making the film compiles years of interviews with dozens of people who knew and loved Andrew, as well as through a number of home videos. Part of makes this a stunning example of art as process, is the fact that Andrew starred Kurt's home made movies growing up, and we see footage from those films, where we see even then the use of film being used to make sense of the world.

The amount of footage, interviews, and information comes at you early and quickly. The audience becomes immersed in the lives of Andrew's family; knows the information when the family knows it, and experiences the events as if they were one of Andrew's friends. An outsider may have been tempted to manipulate the audience, but Kuenne's approach is earnest and admirably restrained. He obviously cares about his friends, and is nothing but charitable to them by his representation (or non-representation in some cases) in this film. That said, Kurt doesn't pretend not to be involved himself. He keeps in narration where he gets emotional. He lets you know that he is frustrated and furious, and that at times he doesn't know where to turn.

This is one of those rare films which is an experience. I cannot remember the last time I was so viscerally effected by a film. Not just in tears but going through a wide range of palpable feelings, some clear cut, some frustratingly ambiguous, and leaving me haunted, purged, shaken. The film allows us to experience with Andrew's parents a diverse and difficult range of emotions. You will be angry, sickened, hopeful, humored, devastated, inspired, awed, depressed, and everything in between. At times you'll want to throw up your hands and say: "I can't go on!" It shows us humanity at its most evil, yet, without being sentimental, shows us how life can go on in the face of incomprehensible horror.

I don't know if I've seen another film which so effectively conveys the impact of the loss of a human life. A shot early on in the film catches a quick glimpse of ripples in a water, and this film looks at those ripples instead of focusing on the initial cause of those ripples.

And in the end, when the film comes back to the filmmaker, on his experience and his journey, in a recap of what we've experienced with humanity in microcosm throughout the film, its a devastating turn which displays the brilliance in the film's structure, despite it appearing a bit haphazard on the surface, all along.

I don't know whether to tell you to read more about the film or not. I've tried not to tell too many details because for full effect, and to do justice to the filmmakers experience you need to let this film wash over you. But I also don't know if some of the more sensitive viewers will make it through this film unprepared. Maybe this will suffice: this is not an easy film; the best never are. But like Becket's Trilogy, by looking through at life through the most hopeless of situations, somehow those who experience the work come out stronger, more human. Victor Frankel's early title for Man's Search for Meaning was "A Case for Tragic Optimism." That is this film.

read more reviews@ floydfortnightly.blogspot.com
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10/10
It's a Wonderful Life as reimagined by Charles Manson
egomoz30 April 2009
Wow, I certainly wasn't expecting it to be this overwhelming. It's the emotional equivalent of having your head kicked in against the curb.

I thought I knew where the story was going but I couldn't shake the sense of sinister dread. I didn't think the story could get any bleaker but then... Maybe I'm doing it a disservice but I would strongly recommend this film to anyone who isn't in an already too fragile state. Because once you invest your own emotions in the story, you are screwed - within minutes I went from sad to angry to shocked and depressed and back and forth etc.

That's quite an achievement. Yes, the film is flawed but you know what? I don't mind that films are flawed, it's the emotional punch that I'm going for. The film is made by someone on a mission (albeit a confused one at times) but the end result is a film that is raw and intimate.

Oh, there is a special place reserved in heaven for all the Bagbys. And a special place in hell for the murderer and the judge who set the murderer loose.
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7/10
One of the Most Traumatic Films Ever Made
deproduction25 August 2009
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father is easily one of the most traumatic films I've ever seen. Its not technically the most impressive documentary film, but the subject matter is powerful-enough that you cannot help but be deeply impacted by the story. I've hesitated to suggest it to a few of my more fragile friends because it is one of those films that can leave you in an emotional funk for days afterward. Its that powerful of a film, but not for the faint of heart. I personally would not watch it again, though I'm grateful that the filmmaker stuck with the project through it all and did not give up, as many would have. I'm grateful this story was told, even if it was painful to experience.
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An absolutely devastating documentary you will never forget
Benedict_Cumberbatch12 June 2009
It makes me sad to see people criticizing "Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father" for its technical limitations. I rented knowing only it was about a pregnant woman who killed her ex-boyfriend, the subsequent plight of the victim's parents and their agonizing efforts to win the custody of their grandson, Zachary (whose mother was released on bail). But the whole story is so unpredictable - and devastatingly sad - that the less you know about it, the better.

Writer/director/producer/composer Kurt Kuenne was a close friend of Dr. Andrew Bagby, who was killed by a psychotic woman, "Dr." Shirley Turner, right after he had broken up with her. He decided to make a final film with his childhood friend Andrew, and when they learned Shirley was pregnant with Andrew's baby, whom she named Zachary, it became more than a tribute to a friend, but a project to show Zachary the father he would never get to know. With Shirley at large, however, their nightmare wasn't over.

With such a tough, emotional subject, it would be easy to get overtly sentimental, but Kuenne does a terrific job. The film is obviously a very personal project, and visibly no-budget, but that's not an issue because this is not a film meant to be visibly stunning. Apparently, some people are way too cynical to appreciate a film for its heart and content rather than focusing on its aesthetics and "artiness". It had a much bigger effect on me than the last Oscar winner for Best Documentary, "Man on Wire" (a fine film itself). Had this film been directed by, say, Michael Moore, it would have been more incendiary and garnered larger media attention, but wouldn't have been half as passionate, compelling and, most important, honest.

Kuenne uses the cinematic tool to document history, make a tribute for beloved friends (not only Andrew and little Zachary, but also Andrew's parents, David and Kathleen, the emotional core of this story) and to instigate the audience, both emotionally and intellectually. When most movies that get a wide release don't even attempt either of these goals, this is a remarkable achievement. Not to be missed. 10/10.
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10/10
One of the Finest Documentaries I've Ever Seen...
David A Dein3 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
It's not fair. It's shocking, and If you have a Netflix account it is essential that you sit down and spend an hour and half watching the documentary DEAR ZACHERY: A LETTER TO A SON ABOUT HIS FATHER. I mention Netflix because it is part of their watch instantly section and I can say without a shadow of a doubt: you need to see this film.

Directed by Kurt Kuenne, it's a story about him on a quest to make a movie for Zachery Turner whose father, David Bagby, was brutally murdered by his Mother. When the Canadian courts let her go on bail it turns into a story of his Grandparents fighting to stay in Zachary's life. These Grandparents never give up. But mostly the story is about the people we leave behind and the legacy that we leave in their hearts. If you think your life is useless, if you think you haven't made an impact on the people around you, then think again. This movie pulls you in at the beginning and doesn't let go.

To tell you anymore about this story is to ruin the emotional impact of a film that will leave you in tears, and thanking God for the people around you. In 90 minutes I laughed, cried, was made numb, angry, philosophical and by the end I rejoiced in the beauty of the human spirit. I saw through some very dark turns that love can conquer all. But more importantly I learned the giving up is never an option and that it's our duty to help those in need.

The film begins with some cheesy computer graphic logo, and the moniker MSNBC Films presents and maybe that's what caught me off guard. I almost turned it off right then and there. But by the time it's over the cheesy little touches made the film feel like it was made by real people and not slick Hollywood documentary film makers. It feels like one of those photo montages at a funeral, or a wedding. It a small snapshot into the lives of of people ravished by tragedy and it ends on a bittersweet note that for once shows the power of real life.

DEAR ZACHERY is one of the most powerful and moving documentaries I've ever seen. It's an emotional film that will leave you angry and yet hopeful. It tells a story that can't be made up, it rejoices in the best of people, during the darkest periods of their lives. I've seen thousands of films in my life and DEAR ZACHERY is a rewarding film, that does what all great films do. It makes you rejoice in the human spirit and demands that if we see something wrong we fix it. Please see this film, I promise you won't regret it.
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