Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008) - Kurt Kuenne

Incredibly moving documentary about Andrew Bagby. Never heard of him? Well don't let that put you off. You see Bags (as his friends call him) was an ordinary Joe from California. He grew up with Kuenne, often appearing in his lo-fi film efforts. Anyway Bags grows up and moves away from home to study medicine. While at university he starts dating twice divorced Shirley Turner, who is thirteen years older than him. After graduating Bags gets a job in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, while Shirley ends up almost 1,000 miles away in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Things don't work out between them and Bags ends their relationship at the airport, packing Shirley onto a plane back to Iowa.

Shirley doesn't take the split well and drives back to meet Bagby in a park near his home. The day after he is found dead in the park, having been shot five times. It doesn't end there though, Shirley flees home to St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada, and then finds that she is pregnant with the baby of the man she is accused of murdering. She ends up having a baby boy (the Zachary of the title), and Bagby's parents give up their life in California to move to St. John's to be close to their grandson. Then things get really horrible…

Kuenne is a decent enough film maker and is obviously close to his subject. This isn't some detached documentarian pretending to care with one eye on the awards season. This is obviously Kuenne's way of dealing with the grief of losing someone he presumed would always be there. He travels to England and all around the USA to interview just about everyone who is related to his friend. The picture that emerges is obviously rose tinted, in fact Andrew Bagby might just possibly have been the nicest human being that ever lived. But that's to be expected, at some point during the documentary Kuenne decides that he's doing this for Bagby's unborn son, so that he might understand who his father was. Impartial this ain't.

This footage is mixed in with the tragic story of Bagby's murder and the struggle his parents have with trying to gain access to their grandson, from the woman who they are trying to extradite back to the States to stand trial for his murder. It's a tough watch, but very worthwhile. I've often toyed with the idea of writing a film script about a robbery where someone gets shot and dies. instead of going off with the robbers though we spend the film seeing the way someone dying has such a huge effect on so many people. Kuenne has gone one step better by making this. Real life is always so much more horrible than fiction. That's the thing that makes this all so tragic.

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