Haven’t done any documentary films on this site, have I? A shame, because there are a lot of truly great ones. Will do a list someday of my top 10 favorite ones. I have a new film to add to this list – Dear Zachary. This is probably the most emotionally-powerful film I have ever seen. I guarantee you, no matter who you are, this film will make you cry. I’m a complete asshole with a general divorce from the human condition, and even I got all teary-eyed at points. This is such a depressing movie, yet it is so amazing to watch. This is one of those rare movies that comes along and sets the tone of what great film can be. But this is not the film for people who want sunshine and rainbows all the time. If you can’t handle the hard stuff, you won’t like this movie. And if you plan on eating something as you watch it, you won’t be able to finish. Let’s talk about it.
The film is told by a man who was an old filmmaker friend of a man named Andrew Bagby. After he is murdered, this guy decides to go around the country and collect the memories of this man and make them into a movie. But the quest takes on a new light, when it is revealed that the woman who killed him is carrying his child, and is in Canada awaiting extradition. The film tells the story of the parents of Andrew, who go to Canada so they can get custody of the only grandchild they are ever going to have, and this man Kurt as he goes to the places that Andrew lived and compiles these memories, to make into a letter to Zachary. Yeah, doesn’t this sounds like lollipops?
What I want to talk about first is the how well this film is put together. There are some truly fantastic scenes where the cinematography is done so well. A scene where Andrew’s dad is at a press conference and the juxtaposition between that scene and previous scenes, along with Kurt on his own mission, is one of the greatest scenes in any movie that I’ve ever seen. I could watch that a thousand times over. The guy who made this may have been amateur, but he clearly has a knack for doing incredible work. All with a digital camera and an old-timey one. Bravo, good sir.
The other thing I really love is how this movie has great uses of silence. Just having quiet moments, either to take in something that happened, or to let tension build for an explosion. There was one scene in-particular where you find out something horrible that happens, and for just a few seconds, they just silently sit on the news headline. It makes when everything blows up so intense and emotionally powerful. Quiet is an under-appreciated art form in this day and age, but this movie uses it to great effect.
But the thing that truly makes this film great is the people. Every one. The way they staggered this movie, cutting between the sad stuff to uplifting stuff just makes every character seem so much better. For such a depressing story, there are a lot of scenes that genuinely have you smiling and wishing that you could have gotten to know Andrew. He sounded like a neat guy. I would have a beer with him. Well, not a beer, since I don’t like beer, but a drink. He could have beer and I’d have a screwdriver or rum and coke. Whatever. I’d still have a drink with him.
Then you have the two stars of this movie – Andrew’s parents. These two are probably the strongest people I have ever seen in any movie ever. I can’t even imagine how awful what happened was like. What they went through to get the only grandson they would ever have into their lives. How they gave so much up and lost so much, yet still kept pushing forward. But they weren’t always strong. They talked about some of their weak moments, and it makes them human and relatable. Only when we see them at their very worst can we truly understand the strength they have by pushing through the pain and doing what was right. Even at the very worst, these two didn’t stop.
However, the guy making this film, Kurt, is also a neat character. He set off on this documentary to answer a question. He wanted to know what he viewed as the reason that he was making this. And as the story unfolds, his reasons become more and more conflicted. Yet he does eventually find his answers, and while I won’t say that it was perfectly cathartic, it was an answer that I think we all could understand.
As I said before, this is a film that is hard to watch. I guarantee that you are going to cry. But if you can look past that, and want to see a movie about some amazing people and the sad tale of their lives, then you will find a movie about so much of the best and worst that humanity has to offer, which may make you feel things you hadn’t felt before. And maybe you’ll find your own questions to ask, not knowing what the answer will be. I have never seen a documentary that touched me this much. This movie has set the standard at the very peak. Do with this whatever you will.
10 out of 10