Review: Dear Zachary

Dear Zachary is what might be called a small documentary, made almost entirely with a crew of one, focused on the experiences of one specific network of people. It begins as exactly what the subtitle describes it as: “A Letter to a Son About His Father”. As it progresses, however, it is forced to become something else. Along with the letter it was meant to be, it is a cry of rage, a plea for change, and a portrait of two people who possess a kind of strength most of us can only imagine being able to claim. In theme, it is not small at all.

The filmmaker, Kurt Kuenne, set out to make a film about his friend Andrew Bagby, who was murdered by an ex-girlfriend. Kuenne tells us in narration that as he began the film, it was only meant to be a chronicle of Andrew’s life, and a chance to spend time saying goodbye. That changed when the woman accused of Andrew’s murder revealed that she was also pregnant with his child. Kurt began to chronicle the legal battles of Andrew’s parents, Kate and David, to assert their rights to custody. The tragic turns their story takes are not easy to watch, but the importance of the telling of their story is obvious. Viewers will probably find themselves crying their way through the movie, but no one could regret watching it.

There are things to criticize in the way the film is put together, and I feel like a jerk pointing them out. But there are scenes where the manic editing style distracts from the communication of information, and feels overdone. And one particular choice Kuenne makes, involving a scene I can only assume he included as a red herring, actually had me feeling cheated for a moment. Maybe that’s how he meant us to feel, like he himself and the others he chronicles must feel over what happened to them. Even so, I’m not sure it was the right way to go.

These issues don’t negate any of the powerful effect of the film, however. As an exercise in distilling gut-wrenching emotion into something solid, the movie more than succeeds. Kate and David Bagby want their story to be heard, and they deserve to have everyone listen. Likewise, Andrew Bagby deserves to have his memory honored. He was obviously a person who would have accomplished a lot of good with his life had he been allowed to do so.

Dear Zachary is being distributed by Oscilloscope Pictures, and is currently playing in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. It is not currently playing in Seattle (I was able to see it on a preview screener from the distribution company), but it does open in Portland this weekend. Learn more at


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Other projects:

Downton Gabby: podcasting about Downton Abbey from a funny, foul-mouthed, feminist perspective

Quick Lit: reading one short story a day in 2015

Grand Dames: collecting sundry achievements of admirable women

The MacGuffin: archive of my days as a film critic

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