Friday, June 19, 2009

On DVD: "Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father"

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father grabbed me from its heartbreaking opening frames, but I managed to hold the tears back till around the 24-minute mark. I was pretty much a wreck from then on. Dear Zachary is the saddest fucking movie you will ever see. I realize those might not be the words to get you to see it; not all people want to be saddened and horrified and destroyed by their motion pictures. Some just want a laugh or an escape, or to watching things blow up. But in all candor, I’m having difficulty remembering the last time a film affected me so thoroughly. This is one of the finest documentaries of our time.

It begins with the brutal murder of Dr. Andrew Bagby, an affable young Philadelphia family practitioner, and the unbelievable story that follows is told, in an almost-but-not-quite first-person fashion, by his friend, filmmaker Kurt Kuenne. The director, a friend of Bagby since childhood, grabbed his camera and went across the country to interview everyone who he could think of that new Bagby—so that his slain friend’s unborn son could somehow, hopefully, know his father.

This is a bare bones description of what transpires in the years that follow that senseless crime, but I’ll reveal no more. Much of the power of the film comes from the unpredictable, and sometimes shocking, unfolding of events. What I can tell you is that it is beautifully assembled—sharp, pointed, and surprisingly fast-paced for a doc (but not in a showy, bullshit, MTV reality show kind of way). Kuenne (who edited) uses overlapping dialogue, repeated phrases, photos, clips, phone calls, and every media imaginable to create a dizzying mosaic of words and of emotion.

Hoop Dreams. The Fog of War. Street Fight. Capturing the Friedmans. Bowling for Columbine. 4 Little Girls. Pressure Cooker. For my money, these are the finest documentaries of the last decade or so. Add Dear Zachary to that list. Seldom will you observe a film so raw, so involving, and so (rightfully) angry. It will break your heart, it will make you cry, and it will make you mad. It is stunning, powerful stuff.

"Dear Zachary" is currently available on DVD. It is also available for instant viewing on Netflix. Don't fuck around. See it.

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