Review: Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father (2008)

dear zachary a letter to a son about his father

The Canadian justice system appears to be as messed up as their Southern brethren, eh!

Written By: Kurt Kuenne
Directed By: Kurt Kuenne

After Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father finished I was left with a lot to ruminate over. The heinousness of the two crimes that the film centers on were not the source of this rumination. The subject matter of Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father is compelling stuff. It is, in every way, the stuff that great documentaries can be made of. What I was left thinking about was the filmmaking of Kurt Kuenne and whether his style helped or hurt his subject. The issue I struggled with the most was how the style of Mr. Kuenne should be taken in relation to the type of film he is making. Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father is a documentary, but it’s also a personal film, a real letter between a friend to another friend, his son, and his friend’s parents.

The aspects of Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father that give me the most pause are some of the more manipulative elements. For instance the choice to put talking lips over still shots of the figures in the Canadian justice system. The reason for this is to highlight the awful mismanagement showcased by the Canadian justice system when it came to the trial of Shirley Turner. However, putting talking lips on still photos undercuts the effect of a strongly themed documentary. It takes a harsh and realistic feeling documentary and turns it into angry slapstick, kind of like an episode of Family Guy.

The reason I’m struggling with such a tactless approach by Mr. Kuenne is because of Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father’s status as a letter just as much as a documentary. Mr. Kuenne is writing a letter to the son of his murdered friend, and whether it’s right for the son or not he is letting his rage over his friend’s death boil to the top of the pot. In a straight documentary I would say that Mr. Kuenne’s actions are childish, terribly manipulative, and a disgrace to the name of documentary filmmaking. Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father isn’t a straight documentary though, it’s also a letter, a story being told from a distinct perspective.

The story aspect of Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father is where I really begin to struggle with my reaction to the film. I’m not sure if my reaction is right, if I should be forgiving the films transgressions against responsible documentary filmmaking as much as I am. It’s the letter aspect that trips me up, because by couching his film in the form of a letter Mr. Kuenne is removed from the usual responsibilities of a documentary filmmaker. His film isn’t about the search for truth, but the truth as he sees fit to tell those he is writing to. This approach causes me to question the awfulness of his fractured timeline approach, his tactless talking lips, or even his fast cutting rage sequence near the end of the film.

I’m not sure if Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father is a great story being told or a terrible documentary. There’s a median in between those two realms, and that’s the median I believe Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father reaches. That’s also why I can understand some people absolutely loving Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father while others loathe everything about the motion picture. Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father is a polarizing film for my own inner thoughts, and sometimes making me think like that is more the sign of a worthwhile film than the usual markers of a great film.

Rating:

***

Cheers,
Bill

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2 responses to “Review: Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father (2008)

  1. Good review Bill. Such a heart-breaker that I haven’t forgotten about all of these years since. I wonder what Kuenne will do next, if he does decide to take-up documentary film-making as a full-time job.

  2. From what I gather his next film is a follow up to this documentary.

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