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Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father


Dear Zachary

Directed by Kurt Kuenne

Dear Zachary, at various points throughout its 93-minute runtime, acts as home movie, eulogy, horror film, crime procedural, and a naked call for activism. Ultimately, however, it emerges as an emotional atom bomb, a film tightly constructed to provide a series of sharp, painful shocks, carefully doled out at precise moments, effectively recreating the sensations doubtlessly felt by its relentlessly tortured subjects. It is less a documentary – with oblgations towards the “objective” view – than a travelogue of human suffering and redemption, complete with inalienable heroes and villains.

Zachary begins as a relatively unassuming piece with a disturbing undercurrent; it acts as a memorial piece in honor of Andrew Bagby, a close friend of director Kuenne who seemingly charmed all who he met in his relatively short life. Interviews with Bagby’s many friends paint an unfailing picture of a decent human being without a bad word for anyone. Bagby’s saintly parents Kate and Dave, along with everyone who knew Andrew at the time of his death, are certain that his ex-girlfriend Shirley Turner is responsible. As police begin to accrue evidence against Turner, she flees to Newfoundland, where she reveals that she’s four months pregnant with Andrew’s child (the titular Zachary), thus beginning a chain of events that are a matter of Canadian public record but which I will not reveal here – the key to Kuenne’s film is in its evolution of purpose, which is best experienced by viewing the film relatively “cold.” It suffices to say that the twin forces of Turner and the Canadian justice system inadvertently conspire to make matters considerably worse.