Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dear Zachary A Heartbreaking Letter to Injustice.

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

Before I share my thoughts on this film I have to give a huge thanks to Colin, the mind behind the Pick ‘n’ Mix Flix website, for recommending Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father for our “Must See List” series. Not only had I not heard of Dear Zachary before, but I would have missed out on a truly moving film experience. My wife would probably agree as two days after screening the film she was still shaken by what she witnessed.

After his long time friend, Andrew Bagby, is murdered by a former girlfriend, Dr. Shirley Turner, filmmaker Kurt Kuenner sets out to make a film that celebrates the life of his friend. Talking to Bagby’s family members, friends, and colleagues, Kuenner begins to craft a story about a man who was a promising med student and, more importantly, loved by all who encountered him. Yet Kuenner’s documentary takes an unexpected turn when Turner, while waiting for her extradition trial from Canada to the United States to start, divulges that she is four months pregnant with Bagby’s child.

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father is, on the surface, Kuenner’s ode to his deceased friend and yet it evolves into so much more. The documentary is brilliantly edited as several different stories play out on screen during the course of the film. Despite the multiple storylines the film never feels overblown or dull. In fact the opposite occurs as the film is continually gripping as it provides a well rounded look at how the tragedy effected Bagby’s loved ones, and a detailed account of how the Canadian justice failed a community.

Never has a film made me feel embarrassed to be a Canadian the way Dear Zachary did. It made me angry to think that my beloved country’s legal system could be so flawed. I could understand if it was one particular person who dropped the ball, but it was a series of people at various levels that all took part in the massive blunder. Dr. Turner clearly had a sickness that seemed to be triggered by men yet everyone except the people who mattered could see it. Despite the rage that the film evoked, a greater emotion overcame me in the end: deep sadness.

I would be lying if I said that I did not get a little misty watching Dear Zachary. While I did not break down in tears, though I did see my wife reach for the Kleenex, I found it extremely tough to watch the film considering my newborn child was sleeping in my arms at the time. The film really makes you think about family, friends, and sacrifice. What Andrew Bagby’s parents had to endure after his death is unimaginable. This film is unflinchingly heart-wrenching to sit through, so I can only guess that it was 100 times worst for the Bagby family who had to endure it in real time. If this film does not make want to give a loved one, whether it be family or friend, a hug by the time the film ends then you may indeed have a heart of ice.

They say that a person’s life can be measured by how those who really knew them speak of them once they are gone. Dear Zachary takes this ideology to a whole new level as it celebrates both life and death but not necessarily in the ways you would initially expect. Although I can talk for hours about all the things I loved about the film, I will practice restraint as Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father really needs to be experienced. I can only hope that I have a quarter of the impact on the lives of my family and friends that the Bagby family had on everyone they encountered.

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father is part of our The Must See List series. It was select based on a submission by Colin


  1. Johnny B!11:19 am

    I watched this on Friday. I then told about a million people about it, and then my girlfriend and I watched it AGAIN on Saturday. It is one of the best documentaries, dare i say stories, I have ever seen. I'm with you, i did't tear up but damn did it affect me.

  2. I've been championing this film since it came out, and I still say that this movie hit me emotionally more than any other film that I've seen.

    I went from pulling my hair in frustration to holding my breath while my heart sank into my stomach, from literally yelling at the television to actually crying.

    For anybody who hasn't seen this and skimmed over the review, this is one of those films where it's best to know absolutely nothing going in.

    I had this as the #1 film the year it came out. I've since re-watched it several times, and while it doesn't hold up quite as well on repeat viewings, recommendations simply do not get any stronger.

  3. @Johnny B! – I would definitely put this film on my list of all-time favourite documentaries. Easily one of the best films docs, heck films, that I have seen in a longtime. It was nothing like I was expecting it to be.

    @Red – My wife has already started to promote the film to everyone she has encountered of late...and I mean everyone! Usually her discussions start with “My husband made we watch this incredibly sad film…” While I did not “force” her to watch the film, I share here sentiments on spreading the word about the film.

    I completely agree with you on the range of emotions that you go through while watching the film. The film offers so many surprises. I really had to work hard not to divulge too much in my review. Like you said, it is a film that works best when you know as little as possible going in.

  4. I've never heard of this film. Colin typically watches obscure indie-films. Some good, some not so much.

    A truly moving review Courtney - isn't beautiful when a film has a truly emotional impact on you?

  5. Nice one, Courtney. You've done the film justice. Like Red, I have to say that this was the most emotional I've ever been while watching a film. To say any more is to reveal things that are best left to be discovered, but those who've watched know what I mean. My heart felt like it weighed a ton more.

    What cheers me up, though, is someone else discovering and enjoying the dinky little films I write about, so thanks for the link and compliment. Means a lot.

  6. @Duke – This is a film you should really give a try. I do not want to overhype it or anything but I would be interested to get your opinions on it.

    I think the emotional response, whether it be deep or fanciful, is why we all love film so much. I firmly believe that the worst type of film is the one that gets no reaction out of me at all. Even if I hate a film, at least it evokes a distinct reaction out of me.

    @ Colin – Thanks again for the suggestion.

    The ability to share films you love with others, or discover films that others love, is one the major reasons so many of us film lovers have blogs. There is something very satisfying about exposing others to something they probably would have not experienced on their own.

  7. I have never heard of this but very convincing review, I absolutely will check it out when I find the time. Documentaries are something I don't watch too much of, though my personal favorites are Super Size Me and The Pixar Story. That may sound kind of sad though lol.

  8. I really must get around to seeing this film. It looks amazing, and heart wrenching.

    Thanks to both CS and Colin for enlightening me again!!

  9. @Matt S – Documentaries are not everyone’s thing but they can be a rewarding film experience when done well. The quality of docs as really increased in the last couple of years.

    I enjoyed Super Size Me as well, though I have not seen The Pixar Story.

    @Custard – Do seek it out if you get a chance. There are a lot of interesting layers to the film that you do not often see in this type of documentary.

  10. I openly admit it - I broke down completely during this film and had to pause it in order to recover. I couldn't even talk to anyone about it for about a week afterwards because I'd start to lose it again...The film is shamelessly manipulative (with its music and how it doesn't reveal certain details until the point of biggest impact), but very effective at communicating its story, the tragedy of it and, I think, the kind of person Andrew was. And yeah, it made me angry too.

    I bet you hugged your baby extra tightly that night, eh Courtney?

  11. @Bob – It was extra tough because my son was sleeping so peacefully in my arms while I was watching the film. I kept looking down at him thinking "what would I do in that situation?" Had I known the type of film it was going to be I would have put my son down in his crib before watching it. I still cannot mention that film to my wife without her getting a little sad.


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