This is another of my older projects I shot back in college. The piece follows Anne Stewart, a resident of the Silver Oaks Place retirement community. She and the rest of the community were evicted from their homes with just 60 days notice when the property was purchased by Capstone Development Corp to be re-purposed for student housing.
Don’t watch this film. Seriously, you’ll thank me. Oh, it’s not that it makes the mistakes of the previous films I’ve reviewed. The character are all fleshed out and identifiable, the production and editing are solid, and the narrative is phenomenal. “But Sam,” I hear you say. “These all sound like traits of a good film!” And, you would be absolutely right; Dear Zachary is an amazing movie. But you still shouldn’t watch it.
Though, perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father, is exactly what it sounds like. Film maker Kurt Kuenne’s closest friend, Andrew Bagby had passed on, leaving an infant son, Zachery, behind. The film began life as a collection of interviews of Andrew’s friends and family, mixed with old home video footage shot by Kuenne. Of course, films like this never receive much attention unless there is some form of twist, and it is a big one. Shirley Turner, little Zachery’s mother, is revealed to be the one who killed Bagby. Following this early reveal, the bulk of the film follows Bagby’s parents, David and Kathleen, fighting to gain custody of Zachary from their son’s killer. This culminates in a climax that I would not dare spoil.
Every note comes together in a beautiful, yet heartbreaking sonata that shows just how powerful the documentary can be. The story is something nobody could have come up with in fiction. Rewatching it after seeing all of the other documentaries for this class, I can truly appreciate how well done it is. It succeeds in creator insertion where Moore’s Bowling for Columbine fails in that the creator is part of the story, but does not ever try to become the focus of the narrative. Unilke A Man Named Pearl, no part of the story seems wasted or superfluous. Finally, it delivers the raw emotion more than anything else on this list. I have seen Dear Zachery twice, and I have cried twice.
So, now you see. Dear Zachery is a brilliant film, that for your own sake, you should avoid.
Every documentary we have seen thus far has essentially been the story of the subject challenging something. In The Cove it was dolphin slaughter; Gas Hole, the oil industry; The Human Experience, perceptions of our fellow humans. Bowling for Columbine is no different, with Michael Moore taking on what feels like the entirety of conservative America at times. Unfortunately, Moore seems not only to have bitten off more than he can chew, but ineffectually gnawing on it like a cranky schnauzer.
More than anything, Moore just comes off as bitter and immature. It’s very clear that he has an agenda, and he has no problem showing it. And, this does not necessarily have to be a bad thing, so long as the presentation and subject matter is handled with a feeling of maturity and respect.
Moore abandons all of that if favor of cheap gimmicks, jabs at interview subjects added when they are not around to defend themselves, and an overall attempt to vilify conservative culture in general. It is a recurring theme in his work for him to chase down those he wants to interview, shove a microphone in his/her face, and then act like a hurt, innocent victim when he is ignored.
All of Moore’s antics radically undercut his message, making me actually feel a tad ashamed when I agreed with any of his stances. Overall, what good ideas that the documentary does present are buried under the sheer breadth of what Moore tries to fight, and the petty behavior on screen. This should really only be watched to get a feel for how not to approach a documentary.