Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008, Director: Kurt Kuenne): Messy and unapologetically manipulative, Dear Zachary feels quite a bit like the grieving process itself. Equal parts schmaltz and rage, it accurately reflects the feelings of its creator, still coming to terms with the loss of his childhood friend.
Kurt Kuenne’s original plan for the film was to document his friend Andrew Bagby’s life for Bagby’s young son Zachary. Andrew, a promising young medical doctor, was gunned down by an ex-girlfriend and colleague, Dr. Shirley Turner, who then fled to her native Canada to avoid prosecution. Some time later, she revealed that she was pregnant with Andrew’s child. If that bizarre setup wasn’t enough, the tale soon becomes even more strange as Andrew’s grieving parents move from the US to Newfoundland to be near their grandson, hoping that they’ll be able to obtain custody when Turner is eventually convicted of the crime.
To say that things don’t go as expected would be a huge understatement. By the end, the film will leave you emotionally drained, angry, and grieving, along with Kuenne and Andrew’s amazing parents. This is an intensely personal film, with a few warts, but it’s heartfelt and honest, and as a tribute to his friend, is something that Kuenne can be proud of.
UPDATE: I had the hardest time writing about this film back when I first saw it at Hot Docs in the spring. I wanted to bring your attention to it now that it’s getting a theatrical release. Watch for it in New York City tomorrow, October 31, with a rollout to some other US cities in the weeks to follow. No word on a Canadian release yet.