Saturday, July 28, 2012

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

How are you feeling?  Are you feeling like you need a gut punch TO YOUR SOUL?  Then watch Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father.  Yay!

In November of 2001, a young medical resident was murdered in a park in St. John, Newfoundland. Andrew Bagby, as we learn throughout the film, was a good guy.  

Soon after Andrew's murder, his ex-girlfriend announced that she was pregnant with his child.  His son. Armed with this news, Andrew's long-time friend, Kurt Kuenne, began the process of compiling the thoughts, feelings, and memories of people who knew and loved Andrew as a way of letting his then unborn son learn about his father. A way for Zachary to really get to know Andrew.

Even though he never would. Or could.

Kurt traveled across the US and Canada, and to other places around the world, in order to record interviews with Andrew's family and friends.  From these interviews - these soul-bearing confessionals - we learn of Andrew's impact on others.  He was kind, funny, loving, and willing to do anything for those close to him.

He also had low self esteem and was extremely self-deprecating. He got down on himself too much.  His inability to really like and accept himself lead to unfortunate relationships - but none so damaging as the one with his ex-girlfriend, Shirley Turner.

Dear Zachary also follows the legal process of extraditing his killer back to Canada from the United States, the attempt to get new laws on the books to protect children like Zachary, and Andrew's parents' excruciating ordeal as they fought for custody of Zachary.

I know from my experience watching this film, as well as reading what others have thought about it, that I was not alone in feeling like something really bad was about to happen before we reached a conclusion. 

Dear Zachary is a very convincing documentary, but it is also a little conniving.  Like any good documentary, it establishes the "good" side from the "bad" side in order to make its case.  From the beginning, the viewer knows the identity of the murderer, knows what needs to be done, but waits in agony, along with Andrew's family and friends, for a satisfactory resolution.  But the "twist" is kept a secret until absolutely necessary in order to give you that OH MY GOD WHAT THE HELL reaction. 

So in that way?  I thought that it was conniving.  It simply wasn't necessary.  But to make its point?  To do what it was meant to do? It was incredibly effective.  In fact, this film's gut punch was so effective, it was the catalyst behind the passage of a new law.

It is worth watching, but I hope that I warned you.  GUT PUNCH.

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