Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)
Directed by Kurt Kuenne
Sometimes you come across a movie that is so sad you just have to have a few tissues or a hankerchief near. Or sometimes you watch a movie that is so thrilling that you start biting your nails or shaking your leg uncontrollably until the suspense has ceased. And even sometimes a movie shocks you so greatly at its climax that causes your jaw to drop to the ground. This movie accomplishes all of the above without any chase scenes, explosions, or superheroes with super powers. This is a documentary. This really happened.
In 2001, 28-year-old Andrew Bagby was shot and killed. He was a beloved young man, touching dozens of people’s hearts as shown throughout the film. Many shared stories of Andrew when he was younger, including filmmaker Kurt Kuenne, Andrew’s best friend. The prime suspect in the murder investigation was Shirley Jane Turner, a 40-year-old, twice-divorced woman whom Andrew broke up with just prior to his death. From Andrew’s closest friends and his parents, they knew there was something wrong with Shirley, but she flees to St. John’s, Newfoundland and soon reveals she’s pregnant with Andrew’s child. When she gives birth to a boy, she names him Zachary.
The film begins as its title suggests, a movie about Andrew Bagby for his son who will never meet. Kurt hoped that one day Zachary could understand that his dad was a wonderful man with many friends and family who loved him. Full of home videos and interviews, especially with Andrew’s parents, it is definitely a heart-felt film that will have you tearing up along with everyone in the film.
But the documentary takes a turn that focuses in on the failed legal system in Canada and Zachary’s grandparents’ quest to gain custody of their grandson. Here, we’re still constantly reminded of Andrew’s death, but watch as his courageous parents fight for everything they believe is right. This is when Kate and David Bagby truly take over and it makes the film more powerful since they can very easily remind you of your own parents.
Kurt uses some directing tricks to try and manipulate certain points across, especially when dealing with the facts and how certain people of power neglected to do their job properly. This doesn’t cheapen the documentary much, but I wish he would’ve realized that the subjects and the facts he portrayed on camera were more than enough to get all of his issues straight. At the heart of it all, Dear Zachary tells the tragic tale of when innocent people are murdered. But like all great documentaries, it pushes for change in areas that could’ve prevented the wrong-doing. This is a great documentary.