I thought I knew how to write this review. I thought I knew the things I would say, the things I would critique, the witty comments I'd make. But as I sit here now I realize I've pretty much lost all of them, and that I should probably start off with a confession. This is going to be something of a copycat review. That's not because I don't have my own thoughts or reactions to this film, but because it's such a polar experience. My guess is that ninety percent of the people who write reviews of this film will end up writing the same thing as me and the couple of dozen people who wrote a review before mine. I read a bunch of them. They all said all the same things I'm going to say. But whether you read my review or one of theirs or one of the hundreds that I'm sure are coming when this film gets its due – and if there's any justice in the world, it will in a big way; the problem, as this film explores, is that there's rarely decent justice in the world – keep that in mind. We're all saying the same thing for a goddamned good reason. DEAR ZACHARY: A LETTER TO A SON ABOUT HIS FATHER is, to put it bluntly, one of the most chilling, affecting and personal documentaries I've ever seen in my life. A six-year-plus passion project by Kurt Kuenne, it's a film that was intended to be a video diary for a young boy. That young boy is Zachary, a toddler whose father, Dr. Andrew Bagby, was killed brutally about six months before he was born. Bagby and Kuenne were best friends as children and remained best friends as adults. When you step back and you think about the kind of bond that exists between two people that allows something like that to grow and strengthen and, more than that, manages to survive both time and geography, you begin to get a little bit of a sense of how profound a task taking on this project was. A big part of this film is a tribute to Bagby, and my God, after watching this you could convince me that the man walked on water. Kuenne's initial goal was to travel around the country and visit with – literally – all of Bagby's friends, the people he'd brought into his life and never let go of. If there's a stunning bit of evidence in this movie as to just how much this man was loved, Kuenne has included a little montage of about a dozen of the guys he knew professing how much they wanted him to be best man at their wedding. He did it at least twice while he was alive and, by all accounts, there was no sense that he was going to be allowed to cease. And if this film had just stopped there, had just been a sweet gesture from a friend to honor his slain buddy, this would have probably been a good film. But because of the events that happen as Kuenne is traveling across the country…it becomes something else entirely. Again, I'm parroting other people here, but please, if you take nothing else away from this review, stuff this in your basket and walk away quietly: go into seeing this film, if you're lucky enough to do so, knowing nothing else. Nothing. I don't mean that in the way that you didn't want to know the details to the new Indiana Jones flick. Don't go to the film's official website; too much is revealed. Don't search the internet for Bagby's name. Don't let anyone who's seen it give you details. Because if you go in cold, you're going to leave having really, truly felt something for the first time in a long time. How do I know that I can make that statement? This is the purest, most intensely raw film I have ever seen of any kind, dramatic or nonfiction. Another reviewer surmised that talking about it would be like talking about a love letter that was found, but only ever intended to be seen by the two people exchanging it. I couldn't agree more. Still, if you found that letter, there might be something in there that was worth talking about, that was worth feeling about, and it might not matter that it's personal to you. Well, not only is that the sentiment you'll feel with this movie, but Kuenne flatly intended for this to be seen by everyone. I hope that happens to the most protracted extent possible. Thanks to a few bizarre and unsettling twists and turns in the story, this film actually runs the gamut of several documentary genres. It goes down an entirely different road than was intended, and it's a road that found me at a couple points holding my hand over my open mouth. This is not hyperbole or exaggeration – I've never done that during a movie in my entire life. Never. I noticed that I did it more than twice watching this. I couldn't stop myself. I was in no way, shape or form ready for most of what Kuenne had to offer. A lot of this has to do with the…um, well, let's call it "unique" editing that peppers this film. I will go out on a limb and say that there are many people who will find the use of quick cuts and overlapping dialogue and a crashing score and general noise to be off-putting and manipulative. I would not argue with those people. But I would not agree with them. I think in a lot of other films these types of devices could SEEM manipulative, but here they fit in with the painful, very real narrative that's cutting everyone involved so, so deeply. There are six or seven scenes that I can think of right now that contain pieces of footage that most documentarians would have either cut completely differently or left on the editing room floor altogether. But Kuenne lets them fester and sink into the frame…and then he lets them slap us right across the face. There were times during this movie that I laughed (most of them during the movies Kuenne and Bagby made as kids or just candid videos of Bagby himself). There were times that I cried. But what I'll remember most about this film is the number of times I was just simply scared out of my mind. I cannot stress this enough: this movie frightened and disturbed me more than any horror film I've ever seen in my life. There were moments when something happened that had my heart beating so fast that I became lightheaded and had to refocus myself. There were at least two instances where I was actually pissed off at Kuenne for the way he chose to tell his story. Not because what happened was inappropriate or in bad taste, but because it was so unapologetically unfiltered and gut-wrenching. That's right: I was actively angry at a filmmaker for gripping until he ripped the emotions out of me. Seriously – how many times do you think you're ever going to be able to say that about a movie? I know, I know – I'm doing such a piss-poor job of reviewing this film. I sincerely apologize, but as I've been writing I figured it was probably going to be like that. This isn't a movie that will allow you to simply throw out a quick synopsis, hit the salient points of interest and give a recommendation. It begs to be afforded so much more than that, and frankly I can't think of anything to do other than talk about how it made me feel and pray to Christ that you kids get out there and see it for yourselves. Before you do that, though, I'll tell you this: relish the time you do take to go see it, because I really believe, for most of you, that you'll appreciate the experience…and it will be the only time you ever see this movie. Remember a couple of years back when UNITED 93 was coming out, and everyone urged you to see it, knowing very well that they were setting up a sweltering pit of despair in your stomach? Remember when you did that to someone else? UNITED 93 took a lot out of me and I knew it would take a lot out of most of the people who saw it, but it was one of those experiences you needed your friends to have almost solely to validate your own. DEAR ZACHARY is closer to UNITED 93 than any other film I've seen for that reason. You need to know that before you go. It's depressing. It's crushing. It's absolute emotional brutality. But you still need to go. Really. Because…here's the thing. As fucked up as this film left me, my parting thoughts aren't on the veritable cornucopia of tragedy or the anger that comes bleeding through the screen or the atrocities that this shitbag of a world sometimes produces. My thoughts were with Bagby's friends and family, the people that unabashedly loved this little teddy bear of a man. They've been through unspeakable horrors throughout this ordeal – an ordeal that's just recently come to as much of a conclusion as is likely possible – and yet, when they talk about their friend…they can't be helped to do anything but smile. And gush. And shake their heads and laugh. For all the pain and suffering and awfulness, these people know that they're lucky. Not everyone gets to have a friend like Andrew Bagby for 30 MINUTES, much less thirty years. I found myself wishing that I'd done certain things to live my life differently, that I could make more of an impact on the people around me, that I could be someone so universally respected and adored. If nothing else is accomplished with this film, it will absolutely attach you to the too-short life that was Andrew Bagby's, and you're going to be sad that you didn't get a chance to know him – but glad all the same that you know ABOUT him now. On a personal note, for what very, very little it's worth, I want to thank Kurt Kuenne for making a movie that most people wouldn't have the gumption to start, much less finish. I can't imagine going through what Bagby's friends and family – especially his parents, Kate and Dave – went through. Mr. Kuenne, you deserve every bit of praise, every pat on the back, every award you get for the rest of your life. You went out and made the best movie that I will never see again, and I just hope that comes off as the immense compliment that I intend it to be. Mr. Winston
June 2, 2008, 1:17 p.m. CST
June 2, 2008, 1:20 p.m. CST
Like two years ago, not on purpose but I was in Austin as it happened. And we tried to get tickets to anything it is was so, you had to be in the know if you wanted to do or see anything.
June 2, 2008, 1:20 p.m. CST
I have a round about connection to this film and I never thought in a million years it would get any attention on this website, let alone so much!
June 2, 2008, 1:23 p.m. CST
swiped this from the Amazon comments section: "with 2.0 coming out later this year, and prices expected to plumment, this is just Amazon cleaning them out of the warehouse while they can still get some decent money for them. 1.1's are expected to be ~100 by Black Friday (day after thanksgiving) and 2.0's are expected to be 200-300. dont waste your time on this soon to be outdated model."
June 2, 2008, 1:23 p.m. CST
by The Chalk Outline
Which festival did you see it at though? The most recent one was at Hot Docs in Toronto on May 16th, I thought.
June 2, 2008, 2 p.m. CST
June 2, 2008, 3:57 p.m. CST
by Yeah I Wrote That
I need to see this asap. It's going to be hard to ignore any official website in an attempt to stay pure, while still hunting down any nearby screenings. Congrats on restoring sanctity to film review.
June 2, 2008, 4:04 p.m. CST
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June 2, 2008, 5:01 p.m. CST
by Mr. Winston
I had to leave SXSW early and didn't get to the screening there, so I had someone connected to the Festival send me a screener. Hopefully the filmmakers will forgive me that; it's one of the few times I can remember feeling guilty for having taken a freebie. <br> <br> Don't know about upcoming screenings, but I did hear that the film picked up distribution. It'll be a NY and LA thing, I'm guessing, but it'll make its way to DVD soon enough. When it does, fire up your Netflix pronto.
June 2, 2008, 5:03 p.m. CST
by The Chalk Outline
Showing next at the Silverdocs AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Film Festival, June 21st & 22nd. After that, I dunno. Last I heard Kurt was still working on a distribution deal.
June 2, 2008, 5:04 p.m. CST
by The Chalk Outline
...that's in Washington, D.C.
June 2, 2008, 5:32 p.m. CST
Thanks, Winston. What you wrote will make me seek this out.
June 3, 2008, 12:43 p.m. CST
I googled it. this is a tragedy
June 11, 2008, 3:55 p.m. CST
I just read a very brief description of the events behind the film and I'm rather disturbed. This sounds so powerful.
Feb. 15, 2010, 1:41 a.m. CST
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Feb. 15, 2010, 1:42 a.m. CST
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