Friday, September 17, 2010

#37-Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father (2008)

Dear Zachary:
A Letter To A Son About His Father

Dear Zachary is an interesting and unsettling documentary that premiered at Sundance in 2007, and has been shown on MSNBC several times since then. Created and conceived by Kurt Kuenne, he takes a camera across the country to get interviews from people who’s lives were changed by his close friend Andrew Bagby, who had been murdered by an ex-girlfriend. After many trials, re-trials, and sentences, the woman accused of murdering Bagby, Shirley Jane Turner, announces that she is pregnant with Bagby’s son. Kuenne set out to make a collective effort of love for the young boy about his father, whom he will never know, and who was killed by the woman he will be forced to live with.

This is an incredible film to watch. Defiantly not for those who are weak of heart. It is sad, heartbreaking, and very unnerving. Now, documentaries (the good ones) often prove their point enough to make you think about what the filmmakers are saying. However because there are not always main characters in documentaries, nor is there ever much narrative, it is very rare that we actually feel emotionally connected to what is going on on-screen (for me anyway). Dear Zachary is the rule-breaker. It had me in tears, it had me screaming in anger, and most importantly, it had my heartstrings, that it was able to pull and manipulate anyway that it wanted, which is exactly what it should do.

With that being said, the film is emotionally rich, but isn’t particularly well made. It feels awkwardly paced and a little choppy at times, and so many names are thrown around in such a quick amount of time, I often couldn’t remember who was who. This film was made nearly entirely on Kuenne’s own back. He did nearly everything. He is listed in the credits for: Writing, Directing, Starring, Editing, Cinematography, Producing, and doing the music for the picture. It is obvious that he had a clear vision, and made the film he wanted to make, but so many jobs for one man begins to wear down on a person, and it shows in an almost amateurish way throughout the film.

This isn’t to belittle the fact that what happened was a tragedy, and my thoughts go out to all people and parties effected, but being fair, there are better made documentaries out there. But there are few that can control its viewer as emotionally well as Dear Zachary. It’s a matter of opinion what makes a better film, feeling, our artistry, and for me it is both. But the sheer power of the story in itself, created by some well placed moments and montages, make Dear Zachary a powerhouse.
I Give Dear Zachary A:

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