Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @DocSoupMan.

Doc Soup: The Last Word on “Dear Zachary”

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I’ve always been a little bothered by what I perceive as the different standards with which film critics (and audiences) approach docs, basically giving greater leniency toward a film because of its noble subject matter. That’s partly why I’ve been talking about Dear Zachary here at Doc Soup. Well, I think it’s time to put an end to this discussion by giving its director the last word on the matter. I emailed Kurt Kuenne, and he sent me a note back which I’ll print in its entirety. I’ll just say that his decency and forthrightness makes me feel like a bit of a cad.

Hi Tom,
Kurt KuenneSorry to hear you didn’t like the film; I certainly can’t please everyone. I find discussions about opinions to be fairly pointless because in the subjective evaluation of things artistic, there is no right or wrong. For example, you weren’t crazy about the editing; Erik Childress (VP of the Chicago Film Critics Association) and Peter Debruge of Variety loved the cutting, as have scores of others, including the critic who reviewed it for your former publication, Premiere. You didn’t like my music; the International Film Music Critics nominated my score for Best Documentary Score of 2008, and I receive frequent requests to buy the soundtrack album. You seemed put-off by my voice-over; it was nominated for the WGA Documentary Screenplay Award at Silverdocs last year. Who’s right? There’s no answer to that question. It’s all subjective. I don’t go out of my way to read reviews anymore, good or bad, as the ups and downs will drive you crazy and make it impossible to do the most important thing, which is to keep working. The film is my testimonial of what it was like to live through that nightmare, and it was only released publicly to help promote change, which it is doing. I deliberated over every second of it and I wouldn’t change a frame of picture or a dial in the mix. It may not be to everyone’s taste. So be it. It’s honest. Every film ever created has people who like it and people who don’t, and I doubt that will be changing anytime soon. (Incidentally, you mentioned that you liked the trailer: I wrote and cut that as well.)

Regarding your question about theatrical vs. TV, I’m thrilled that it got a theatrical release at all. The TV deal was in place first, so there was very little time left for a theatrical run when Oscilloscope expressed interest. They originally only planned to release it in New York and Los Angeles for a week, but it ended up running for five weeks in New York, then expanding to about 10 more cities, which was not planned but the demand was there. I have nothing but superlative things to say about both MSNBC and Oscilloscope, who have both treated this movie with exquisite love & care, and did not ask for a single artistic change to the film. (It just won the Sigma Delta Chi award for Best Documentary of 2008 from the Society of Professional Journalists for MSNBC, so I’m very happy for them. They deserve every good thing that comes their way.) If anyone out there is in talks with either MSNBC or Oscilloscope to release your movie, go with them; they’re both amazing and they will take care of you. And I also have nothing but superlative things to say about Josh Braun of Submarine Entertainment, who introduced me to them.

Dear Zachary has started to get Canada’s Parliament talking seriously about reforming its bail laws: After screening the movie recently, a group of Parliamentarians is drafting a bill on this issue that I hope will be tabled very soon. (See a PDF of an article about this from The Hill Times.)

In answer to your question of what I’m up to lately, I start directing a small feature in a few weeks starring my friend TJ Thyne (star of Fox’s Bones). He starred in my comedy short Validation a few years back, which did very well at festivals and recently became one of the top-rated films of all time on YouTube, so it’s fabulous to be working with him and his amazing team again…on something fictional, thank God. :)


Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki
  • Ami

    FOREIGNID: 18273
    I think your review was dead on. I thought the subject matter of the movie was devastatingly powerful, yet the execution of the doc itself left me wanting. It was hard to follow, primarily because the editing was all over the place and at times a bit incoherent.
    I am glad the it got recognition and as the filmmaker said these things are very subjective and there is no accounting for individual taste.
    Keep up the great work with this blog which is my first read on Monday mornings.