Documentary Review: Dear Zachary


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.