Saturday, October 18, 2014

Movie Review #39: Dear Zachary

I never noticed this documentary on Netflix until Reid recommended it to me. He recommended it as a really good documentary that he never wanted to watch again. Then he shivered, which made me think it was some sort of horror story.

Most of the time when I watch a movie I really like, I can see myself watching it again and again later. However, every once in a while you get a Grave of the Fireflies; a movie that's good yet tragic, and I definitely don't want to watch it again.

That applies to Dear Zachary. This film is very interesting and engaging (wonderful qualities in a documentary), but it's also very sad. Well, it was sad to me. Laura was angry by the end, while I was wiping away tears. Regardless, there was a powerful emotional response, which is one of the best things I can say about any movie.

After his friend Andrew Bagby was killed, filmmaker Kurt Kuenne realized that there was a lot he didn't know about his childhood friend. So, he began to gather information from the people Andrew knew all across the United States as well as in Canada and England.

The project took on new meaning when he learned that Shirley, the jealous ex-girlfriend who seems like the most likely suspect in Andrew's murder, is pregnant with Andrew's child. The film becomes a message for that child, Zachary, so that he can learn about the father he never met.

The film also documents the journey of Andrew's parents as they chase Shirley to Canada and try to gain custody of Zachary from his unstable mother.


I'm not going to spoil this movie for you. Go watch it. It's on Netflix.

Rather than talk about what happens in the film, I'm going to talk about Kurt and his filmmaking style.

I don't know how many of you know my roommate Jeff Benson. He's a filmmaker from San Jose who made a lot of movies with his friends when he was younger. He can be obsessive sometimes, and he has a very close relationship with his childhood friends.

This reminds me of the kind of project Jeff would have made if one of his childhood friends died. Mostly because Kurt himself reminds me a lot of Jeff: a friendly person you tend to remember, who happens to be from San Jose, who made movies with his friends, and who, as a director, always tells you "One more time!" even though you're probably going to be doing at least five more takes. He even does strange, funny cutaways like Jeff sometimes--but not excessively. After all, it's a movie tribute to his murdered old friend.

By the end of the movie, you really feel like you know Andrew and his parents. The virtue of having a friend that always carries a camera around is that you have plenty of video evidence of things that went on. So, though Andrew is dead by the time Kurt began gathering material for the movie, Andrew gets plenty of speaking roles. He really does seem like a charming guy.

There are some strange moments in the movie, such as when the sound abruptly ends for dramatic purpose. It happens without warning, and on multiple occasions I wondered if the movie was playing correctly.

That said, Dear Zachary is a very moving movie, and one that I highly recommend. However, I will not watch it with you, since it's not something I want to experience twice.

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