SXSW FILM FESTIVAL
Sundance - Why Didn't You Show Dear Zachary??
by Alex Billington
March 17, 2008
Instead of writing a typical review for Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father, which wouldn't have been fitting anyway, I decided I needed to otherwise question why Sundance (or any major film festival) didn't accept this film. Dear Zachary is a documentary made by Andrew Bagby's filmmaker friend Kurt Kuenne. Andrew was murdered a few years ago and this documentary was made to capture the memories of Andrew in order to show his son Zachary the kind of man he was. That's all you need to know going in, because the less you know, the more you'll gain coming out of this. It moved me to tears and left me astounded at the end - this is a film that deserves more appreciation than it's getting.
I was first introduced to Dear Zachary by Erik Davis at Cinematical, who had seen the film at Slamdance (not Sundance) at its premiere. He wrote a similarily vague review only saying things like "this was one of the best documentaries I have ever watched in my entire life" and more commanding statements like "And here's a note to any programmer from any fest reading this review: Play this film. And here's a note to anyone looking to purchase a doc to distribute and whatnot: Buy this film." I knew I wanted to see it, but I didn't know what to expect.
In a last minute decision, I made Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father my final film of the SXSW Film Festival - I was in for something that I didn't even know was coming. Erik was right - go into this cold and be prepared for a life-changing experience.
This film wasn't made to win awards or, for that matter, even be criticized. It was made to tell a story and to capture forever the life of one man and the many people he touched. It achieved just that - it told a story that moved me and that showed me that even one person can have an impact on so many others. Although I was admittedly depressed coming out of the film, the glimmer of hope that it had at the end was all that I needed to walk out and try and become a better person and live a better life. I praise Kurt Kuenne for having the heart and determination to perfectly put together one of the most powerful documentaries I have ever watched.
Why oh why, Sundance, did you decide to skip over this? Unless it wasn't submitted as a potential film, I'm surprised and shocked that you would have missed the opportunity to showcase something this astounding! Maybe it was too profound and realistic for them to show, or maybe they just missed the idea entirely. Either way, consideration for showing (or seeing) this film shouldn't be based on the technical aspects, but purely on what it can achieve as a piece of cinematic art (if it can even be called that). Every last person who steps foot into a theater to see this will walk away changed. And that's the problem - not enough people are getting the chance to see it.
The best I can do is reiterate what Erik said in his review. If you are a film festival programmer: play this; if you are a distributor: buy this; if you are a movie-goer like me: see this. It's a shame that Sundance missed the opportunity to give Dear Zachary some extra attention, but looking towards the future, I'm sure it will gain the appreciation and recognition it deserves soon enough.