12 June 2009 | Benedict_Cumberbatch
An absolutely devastating documentary you will never forget
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.