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Heroes of the Zeroes: Dear Zachary

by on March 20, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Dear Zachary”
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Going in, know only this of the story behind 2008’s “Dear Zachary”: After the murder of his best friend, Andrew Bagby, filmmaker Kurt Kuenne sought to “make one more movie with his friend” and document for Andrew’s as-yet-unborn son, Zachary, the wide web of lives Bagby touched.

Further details will ruin “Zachary’s” emotionally destructive impact — chronologically recalled by Kuenne in a manner that doesn’t feel dubiously manipulative. Yet, a few critics have called it that, as well as one-sided.

That’s within their right. But Kuenne’s film wasn’t originally intended for hearts and minds of anyone who didn’t know Bagby. His narration quivers. He almost abandons the project. Only tragedy gave it wide viewership. If it hurdles past evenhandedness, well, it’s a race against time to preserve as many positive memories as possible.

Also, someone could make a film about whether the system failed Bagby’s killer and prevented their descent into madness. This isn’t that film.

“Zachary” is a film about how some bury their faith with their children, people for whom death becomes the only reason to remain alive, surprising overlaps of circles of friends and four consistent words of support that ring out across a continent.

Time Out’s Hank Sartin eloquently argued for “Zachary,” saying documentaries “should not be judged on their neutrality, but on their persuasiveness and their intellectual honesty about the inevitable emotional manipulations.”

Considering that, “Zachary” was an unmitigated triumph — a devastating answer to the question of what difference it would make if one person weren’t alive.

The trailer divulges far, far, far too much, so you won’t find it here.