Welcome back to another week of the Robot Panic Film Festival! This week, we’re diving in to the only documentary in the lineup this year, Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father. Before I go any further into this post, I must first urge you to avoid all spoilers in regards to this film. Do not read any plot synopses, do not google the film, and certainly do not read the comments section for this post until you have seen the film. What makes this film great is not simply the subject matter, but the way that information is revealed to the audience, from the film’s very opening to the unforgettable finale. To even understand the basic premise of the film before watching it is to deprive yourself of that experience.

Dear Zachary is a unique breed of film. It is not a detached, thoughtful look at an event through an outsider’s eye; Rather, the film’s director Kurt Kuenne is actually a principal character in the film, and the events play out almost entirely through his eyes. Going in, you should be forewarned that, while it is an excellent film, it is by far the most emotionally taxing film of this festival. The subject matter is a large part of this, but credit must be given to Kuenne’s editing. Rather than a strictly-paced, by-the-books approach, Kuenne barrages the audience with images and information in bursts, timing the lulls and booming crescendos to catch the audience off guard, giving some of the film’s more potent reveals the maximum impact they deserve.

And don’t try to fool yourself: You will assuredly succumb to the emotional peaks of the film, Kuenne makes sure of that. One particular moment in this film is akin to coming up for air only to be socked in the stomach as you surface. Everything about this film is carefully calculated to be devastating. With any other documentary, this level of emotional manipulation of the audience would be insulting, but Kuenne’s personal stakes in the story convey a realistic sense of the events as they happened to him. As the audience, we don’t simply view the events, we live them alongside the people on the screen.

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16 Responses to Film Festival Week 3: Dear Zachary

  1. Aaron "Lag" Sawatzky says:


    grown me aren’t supposed to cry like that.
    Every one here needs to watch this at least once

  2. skreesha says:

    This movie made me very sad.

  3. Ryker XL says:

    I followed the instructions and just watched this movie, having no clue as to what it was about or even what kind of movie it was.

    As a former video Producer I was immediately impressed with the editing. Short cuts, great pacing, it kept me interested in what started out to be an uninteresting topic for me. But 10 minutes into the film the pacing changes and we are introduced to what happened and the REAL WORLD antogonist of the film. The story immediately takes on new depth and a new dimension and you’re hooked.

    My wife was busy gardening while I was watching and she stopped to ask what I was watching. I explained what it was about and she just stood there for 20 minutes, mouth agape saying, “wow…no way.” Things take a happier turn and she walked away and then as Mitch points out, you gasp for air and get hit in the stomach. My wife rentered the room at that moment. She litterally screamed at the reveal of what occured. That’s the impact this movie had on a casual viewer. The impact on those who committed to the entire 90 minutes was much more profound. You can’t help but cry, and if you don’t I’d go looking for your soul…

    I’ll probably watch it again, show it off to people who appreciate good film making. But it won’t be anytime soon, it’s a tough show to watch.

  4. damo says:

    I don’t think I’ve uttered the words “holy shit” and “wow” as many times with any movie, documentary or otherwise, as I did when watching this film. I completely agree with the “getting hit in the stomach” feeling. It is powerful. There are parts where the director actually inserted the sound of a heart beating, and it went right along with my own heart beating just perfectly.

    Usually when watching a documentary I’m sitting back and simply taking in the information intellectual-style, but with this one I felt like I was taken on some kind of roller coaster ride of emotional insanity. Like Mitch and Ryker, I agree that the director did such an incredible job with editing, sound, and the way information was revealed that the story had a much larger impact than it otherwise would.

    About the events in the documentary themselves, HOW THE FUCK did those grandparents actually spend time with that woman? The woman who fucking shot and killed their son. I would not have been able to do it. There are shots of the grandfather in the pool with her playing with Zachary, and photos with them on the grass playing together. It is unbelievable to me that they could even be in the same room with her and not totally lose it.

    Did anyone have the DVD? There was a special feature part with an interview of the two grandparents, where they talked about different ways that they could get Zachary out of danger. In one scenario, the grandfather said he figured he could sneak out at night, go to that woman’s house, kill her, and then come back and just get back into bed. Even if he went to jail, at least Zachary would be alright, and living with the grandmother.

    I’ll never forget this one!

  5. Wolf-Bot says:

    The grandfather is a stronger man than I. What I mean to say is that I would not have had a second thought about killing that woman.

  6. Aaron "Lag" Sawatzky says:

    @Wolf-Bot Same, the strength that man showed is almost un heard of in this day and age

  7. Ryker XL says:

    @wolf, @Damo

    Best quote in the entire film sums up why the Grandparents never did anything. “I think God puts certain people on Earth to be examples for the rest of us…”

  8. John says:

    Well thanks Mitch. Thanks a lot.




    I could have gone my entire life not seeing this movie and been happy as a clam. The whole time I was watching this I had sort of prepared myself for the worst, but at the same time I was thinking “Please no, please no.” And sure enough: there it was.

    Jesus. Next week’s movie should be some fucking Three Stooges flick.

  9. Mitch says:

    Haha, I actually anticipated that, which is why next week’s film is a comedy.

  10. Aaron "Lag" Sawatzky says:

    Thank Christ

  11. damo says:

    Ryker, I remember that quote, and then thinking to myself, well, I guess I’m not one of the examples!

    Bring on the comedy :-)

  12. deadward says:

    Wow… I was doing pretty good until Ewan came and asked me what I was watching. I had a real problem finishing movies like this right after he was born.. The littlest thing regarding a son in even the crappiest action flick would set me off, and this brought it all back in force.
    Very well done, I really liked the pace and how it was all put together… the time jumps and backtracking worked well. The build up, where you go form “How the hell are these people able to deal with this?” to “Fuck… please don’t tell what I know is going to happen next…” was done very well.
    I’m glad this was in the festival, because I had never heard of it prior to this and probably would never have seen it… Good call Mitch.

  13. carrotpanic says:

    Wow, so powerful. I haven’t cried watching a movie like that since Big Fish. When it’s exposed that she took Zachary my mouth went slackjawed and then, like the rest of you mentioned, you get hit in the gut with the death news.

    The grandparents are two strong people…incredible.

    The recollections from all the friends, especially the redneck from St. Louis really got to me too. Makes me want to go hug my friends and not start any meaningless fights.

    Puts things in perspective.

  14. Gruel says:

    Just finished watching this and I never thought a documentary could be so powerful…..just damn. Best grandparents of all time…..damn

  15. […] out who plays as what and what everybody ends up doing is half the enjoyment.  If you want a break from crying, by all means get a hold of Smokin’ Aces. Pimp Our […]

  16. Zinswin says:

    Finally got around to watching this, since my wife doesn’t like watching movies that make her cry. There was a huge load of laundry to fold, she had homework, and the kids are at the grandparents’ house. Time to fold laundry and boot up Netflix…

    I can agree with what most everyone said above, and echo that what really stood out for me was how the parents could sit there with the murderer and play with Zachary together. They had a hostage mentality, scared every moment, knowing the horrible things she could do, and waiting for relief from a court that tells them to trust the system. I feel so sad for them and the wrap up of the film was the most emotionally powerful for me.

    Thanks, Mitch, for putting this up. I’d never heard of it and I consider myself a documentary geek.

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