SXSW FILM FESTIVAL

SXSW Review: Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son about His Father

by
March 22, 2008

  • US Release Date: SXSW Film Festival 2008
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Running Time: 95 minutes
  • Directed by: Kurt Kuenne
  • on IMDb
  •    10/10

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

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!

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  • heckle0
    Ken...thanks for writing this review. I just saw it tonight at the Denver Film Fest and i was weeping for about an hour after. OMG. Such a amazingly heart wrenching story. If you dont react to this film there is something wrong with you.
  • Cheezy
    I want to write about Shirley the evil one for a bit. The murderer. I watched this film and did not cry once. I was numb throughout. It was very interesting for me to see so up close and personal families like this. I never chose men like Andrew to be in relationsihps with... maybe one day I will... I am finally a bit more whole that I might be able to be with a normal loving person. Mostly I stick with other severely damaged people like myself struggling to find some peace in this world. You see, I did not know a family like this when I was growing up. I can relate to Shirely. If not for the grace of God I could have been her. Was almost her. And now I cry. I struggle.. less now as I get older never to be her. Somewhere someone wrote a review about how this woman was shreiking in agony and that these people the family and friends were so nieve. Yes, that is true, but I could never damn them for it and in a perfect world we would all be like them and there would be no Shirley's in the world. While so many suffered. I can tell you that noone suffered more than Shirley. Pretending to be normal and happy and never knowing what it really was. Trying to fit in, to be perfect, to be loved to do the right thing... but having those nightmares chase you... the darkness and terror always knocking at your door the minute you put your guard down.... overwhelming you in a suffocating blanket of unfathomable darkness.....that no one never really seems to understand... especially shrinks. Shirley was skilled at trapping men..it is no surprise she was pregnant that was her M.O. so desperate to be loved. I can tell you this woman was never loved and horribly abused as a child. She would never be whole.. I suffered the same and as hard as I try and connect with God .... it is a struggle.... there is a void... and terror comes rushing in to fill it the moment you put your guard down. I would have been just as manipulative of the people and the system.. maybe not I might have given in...but commiting such a crime would have completely pushed me into a hellish realm.. who knows... I may have acted the same way as her. I can tell you that changing the system is good, legal laws etc. The sad part is no one protected Shirley when she was a child. That is the way to make the hellish events that are documented in this film stop one day. In a social system world... we need to recognize children at risk right away... as soon as somenoe gets a DUI or is charged with a violent crime... their children are at a huge risk... the family is a huge risk to society... and some of them will become the Shirley's of this world. I am not saying that the Bagby's are in anyway supposed to champion this. They have been through enough and may have even realized how there is a full circle here. I am fortunate that I somehow never quite went over the line and I pray I never will. Some where some how society needs to understand how the damaged dysfunctional children suffer and become the Shirley's of the world. I don't think you are born evil... just born into a nearly hopeless situaiton... It would be very interesting to learn about Shirley. I am so glad to get to see the Bagby's of the world.. not suffering that is horrendous but to have met these wonderful people and their son... it was a "oh" moment for me... not that I didn't know families existed like this... just that I had not had the opportunity to be more intimate with them. My prayers go out to them and Andrew's friends. My prayers also go out to the Shirley's of the world. May God find you and give you some light.. and keep you from harming yourself and others. I love you.. I know you are out there... let the God light in...

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