SXSW FILM FESTIVAL
SXSW Review: Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son about His Father
by Ken Evans
March 22, 2008
I have to admit that I did not initially want to see Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son about His Father. It was our last day of the SXSW festival and I had had my fill of documentaries. This wasn't even on my list of films to see and I hadn't heard anything about it. Alex had brought up that he wanted to see it the night before and he told me the title of the film. He didn't tell me what it was about or the basic premise, just the title. Realizing there weren't any other movies I wanted to watch, I reluctantly agreed to go thinking at the very least I would be able to eat at the Alamo Drafthouse one last time. After finally watching it, I'm ashamed that there was ever a part of me that didn't want to give it a chance.
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son about His Father is about the undertaking that director, writer and composer Kurt Kuenne undertook after the death of his close friend Dr. Andrew Bagby. Bagby left behind a son named Zachary who Kuenne decided to make a film for so that he would know the kind of man his dad was. Kuenne had no agenda or time frame; he just decided to travel the world interviewing everyone that had ever known Bagby. Eventually more information came to surface about his death and this memorial that he was putting together turned into something else entirely.
This is not a film that can be reviewed in the normal sense of the word. Just like Alex said in his article, it wouldn't be fitting and I won't do it either. To break this film apart or criticize it in any way would be like trying to criticize a love letter written between two people. It's personal, intimate and something that shouldn't be tampered with.
We made it to the third screening of Dear Zachary and missed our opportunity to meet Kurt Kuenne. I wish he could have been there so that all of us would have been able to speak with him and really give our thanks for what he made. Through the film he introduced us to his friend Andrew Bagby and portrayed what a great man he was. He showed us Bagby's parents and the love they had for their son. Not to mention showing us the interviews he did with a huge number of close friends that Andrew had, who all cared for him deeply. I have to be careful what details I share from the film, because this is truly one that you need to see without knowing much about it.
What happens during the course of this documentary will take you through the gamut of human emotion. There were times I felt intense sadness, love, comfort and hope. While at other times I was brought to anger and even hatred. You will laugh, you will smile, you will cry, and you might even want to stand up and shout at the screen. This will touch you in a way that only real life can.
As soon as you get an opportunity to see this please take it. Don't be like me and hear the title and think it's going to be just a sappy father and son story. Even if every part of you doesn't feel in the mood to watch it, force yourself to. I promise within the first five minutes you will be captured by it and you won't be able to tear yourself away.
Kuenne is able to capture the true nature of love and dedication in a way I have never seen. These are virtues that we don't tend to see the fullness of during our everyday routine. But in times of immense hardship and woe, such as is in Dear Zachary, we are able to see them shine brilliantly through the friends and family of Andrew Bagby. This is without a doubt one of the most profound, touching, and moving films I have ever watched. Everyone should be given an opportunity to see this!