“Dear Zachary” is subtitled “A Letter to a Son About His Father.” The origin of the film came from Kurt Kenne’s earliest days as a filmmaker. One of his close friends, Andrew Bagby, always starred in his home-video movies. Kurt was close friends with Andrew’s parents. In fact, a lot of kids were close to Andrew’s parents. Andrew was one of those guys. Andrew went to medical school and ended up practicing in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. And then Andrew is found dead in a park, shot five times. Andrew’s ex-girlfriend is an instant suspect. Friends all say that she harassed Andrew repeatedly. She bought a gun weeks before Andrew was killed. It was the same kind of gun that Andrew was killed with. Her cell phone records show she drove halfway across the country to Pennsylvania the day before Andrew’s death and then returned just before Andrew’s body was found. And then she announces that she is pregnant with Andrew’s child.
And that’s only the first act. Kenne and many of Andrew’s friends are devastated by his death. Who would want to kill the guy that everybody loves? Kenne started this film as a letter to Zachary, Andrew’s unborn son, to show him how great his dad was and give him a sense of his family history. Zachary’s mom, Shirley Jane Turner moves to New Foundland, Canada to try to avoid being charged in the movie. Andrew’s parents move to New Foundland to spend time with their grandson, even while fighting to have Turner charged and tried with Andrew’s murder. In doing this, they need to see their son’s probably killer on an almost daily basis, a gut-wrenching and painful situation the likes of which the viewer can only imagine.
The movie is narrated by Kurt Kenne, as he tries to tell the story in the most linear way possible. Dead alleys and asides are often dismissed with, ‘but I’ll tell you about that later.’ Kenne traveled all around the world, interviewing Andrew’s friends and family. As the film moves along, a mosaic is built, with video clips and pictures that Kenne has already shown build into something greater than the sum of their parts.
“Dear Zachary,” is a punch to the gut and something that leaves you completely torn apart. To see the failure of government and the punishment of a large number of people for no apparent reason is painful to watch. The first-person documentary is an overused concept, but Kenne finds a way to make it something truly wonderfully moving. The handmade quality only makes the heartbreak that much more palpable.
“Dear Zachary,” is being shown on MSNBC for the next few months after racking up awards at various film festivals. A DVD release is coming soon. I cannot highly recommend this movie highly enough. Either check the TV listings to find out when it’s being shown, or rent it on DVD. “Dear Zachary,” needs to be seen by as many people as possible. -Sam