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A normal day, no thought of death—
Till one call makes me catch my breath,
And all at once, the world I knew
Is marred by news that can’t be true.

It seems just yesterday we spoke,
And just this morning both awoke,
And now before the day’s complete,
It’s only one whose heart can beat.

“Why?” is foremost in my mind,
Which can’t be answered by mankind.
We only know one evildoer
Dared to make good people fewer.

Once anger, blame, and heartache fade,
And all my searchings have been prayed,
My memories of you remain,
And love of them must keep me sane.

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated (a few F words, but most of the content is PG-13 level)

I haven’t had much time for anything other than school lately, but I don’t want to forget about my Blindspot picks this year. Some of them, and quite a few others I’ve seen since starting this blog, I owe to MovieRob. His seemingly non-stop movie-watching/reviewing has introduced me to plenty of hidden gems (many of which I’ve still yet to see), but when he ranked a documentary called Dear Zachary among his favorite films of all time, I knew I had to check it out. Plus, I loved director Kurt Kuenne’s time-hopping Shuffle, another MovieRob recommendation and my favorite Blindspot from last year, so I was curious to explore his previous work.

As some may know, I’m not the biggest fan of documentaries in general, since they’re often well-executed and informative but never have as much entertainment value as a normal movie. Even if it was the best doco ever made, I’d pick a feature film every time if I had the choice (which is why I grade them as a simple “Thumbs Up” or “Thumbs Down”). That being said, Dear Zachary is probably the best documentary I’ve seen, simply because of how engaging it is. This is not a true-life story to watch casually, vaguely absorbing facts as they’re doled out. No, this film strikes deeper because of what a personal project it was for its director and how its focus evolved during filming.

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Handling everything from music to editing, Kurt Kuenne originally wanted to memorialize his lifelong friend Andrew Bagby, who was murdered after breaking up with the clearly unstable Shirley Turner. Once in custody, Turner announced she was pregnant with Andrew’s son Zachary. To eventually introduce Zachary to the father he’d never know, Kuenne traveled the country to gather interviews with Andrew’s friends and extended family, all of whom attest to what a special and loving man he was. If the story had ended there, it might never have been released to the public, probably remaining a personal collection of bittersweet video recollections.

Yet, as I said, the film’s focus deftly shifts from Andrew to Zachary to Andrew’s long-suffering parents, who face a lengthy legal battle with Shirley, the details of which I won’t spoil. Through it all, Kuenne’s narration manages to be both objective in stating the facts and deeply impassioned about the loss of his friend. His editing sometimes borders on too frantic, spitting out details a bit too fast to keep up, but it imbues the account with an urgency that never lets the viewer’s attention lag. Between his commentary and the heartbreaking interviews with Andrew’s parents, it’s easy to share their heartache at how things turned out and their anger at the miscarriages of justice they endured.

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Watching Kuenne’s meticulous recap of this tragedy, I couldn’t help but admire his devotion to his departed friend, who I felt I knew well by the end. If I were to suffer the same fate as Andrew Bagby, I’m not sure there would be the same outpouring of grief from friends and relatives, close and distant, but Andrew clearly left behind a legacy that Kuenne captured beautifully. Yet Dear Zachary is as much a love letter to Andrew’s parents as to Andrew himself, representing their Job-like patience and resolve with clear affection. Between the drama of the unfolding crime story and the profoundly personal heartache it leaves, I certainly see why MovieRob is so fond of it. It’s criminal that the Academy didn’t even deign to give it a nomination for Best Documentary. Even if documentaries aren’t my preferred cup of tea, this one is too good to miss.


Rank: Thumbs Way Up


© 2018 S.G. Liput
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