Sunday, 8 March 2009
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About his Father (2008) dir. Dir. Kurt Kuenne
By Alan Bacchus
In 2001, Andrew Bagby, a young 28-year-old doctor, was murdered, a heinous, premeditated crime that left his infant son, Zachary, without a father. As a gift for Zachary to discover in older age, Bagby's best friend and filmmaker, Kurt Kuenne, embarked on a journey to document Andrew's life and present to the world the criminal case against the murderer, which, during the making of the film, unfolded with remarkable dramatic intensity.
Like Andrew Jarecki's "Capturing the Friedmans" and Jonathan Caoette's "Tarnation", Kuenne uses the medium in such profoundly personal ways beyond mere entertainment. Dear Zachary isn't so much a documentary as it is an experience, a sharp true crime procedural, a damning indictment of a failed criminal justice system and above all, a beautiful, artistically rendered portrait of a man whose life will be paying forward long past his death.
Using old home videos and red-eyed, unflattering point-and-shoot stills, Kuenne shows Andrew Bagby as an accessible everyman, someone anyone of us could have known; he's neither famous nor rich, nor particularly important in any way beyond his immediate family and friends, but within his circle is a very special person. Kuenne tells his story with such emotional honesty that the tragedy that finds Andrew and his family hits home with as much frustrating anger as if it occurred to one's own family or friends.
Kuenne's technique is fuelled with this anger. He edits the film with the pace and excitement of a child describing a monumental experience, trying to get it all out in one breath. We're bombarded with information, voiceovers and imagery overlapping, creating a rhythm of chaotic intensity. In an effort to put us on the emotional rollercoaster of Babgy's family, Kuenne often floors us with monumental shifts in tone that cross from one emotional extreme to the other.
After a successful festival run, "Dear Zachary" is ripe for discovery by the Blockbuster audience. The DVD contains more interviews and footage for Bagby and his family but after 90 minutes of heartbreaking tragedy, you'll need some time away from the material to recover. Enjoy.