The 365 Best Films of the 2000s

Heroes of the Zeroes: Dear Zachary

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

“Dear Zachary”
Not rated

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.

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3 Responses to “Heroes of the Zeroes: Dear Zachary”

  1. Nick Rogers says:

    An additional thought: The film’s tragedy predates the invention of Facebook and Twitter, but the rapid-fire way in which memorials of Andrew Bagby are edited together and the widespread scope of those offering them very much feels like a social-network expression of grief – fast, immediate and unifying. Of the several films I’d missed that I caught up with in favor of considering for the list, this has easily been the one to stick with me the most.

  2. I remember at a Heartland Film Festival luncheon for filmmakers a few years ago, they set me next to Kurt. He was there for another movie, and I casually asked him what his next project was, and he started telling me about the movie that became "Dear Zachary." I immediately went back to the office and blogged about the next great documentary.

  3. Joe Shearer says:

    Anytime someone asks me for a generic movie recommendation, asking for a good movie with no qualifications (i.e. in theaters, action movies, comedies, etc), this is invariably the first and only one that pops to mind for me. It is honestly the single most heart-wrenching film I’ve ever seen. It is often difficult to watch, but it’s also a tremendous portrait of parental love, angry justice, and self-sacrifice.

    People talk about films you should see before you die. This film is one of those.

    I’d also recommend the book by Andrew Bagby’s father, called "Dance with the Devil." It is very obviously written by a non-professional writer, but it’s extraordinarily detailed, honest, and completely frank and heartbreaking.

    BTW, for regular readers, this is the "D" documentary I was talking about in our discussion of "Capturing the Friedmans" awhile back.