‘Casting JonBenét’ is a Netflix documentary written and directed by Kitty Green was released in the beginning of 2017. The documentary explores the case of the 6 year old beauty queen, JonBenét who was murdered in 1996. Her murder remains unsolved and was one of the biggest cases of the decade. In the sleepy town of Boulder Colorado, nothing to that extent had happened before. If you’re unfamiliar, the day after christmas in Boulder, Patsy Ramsey found her daughter missing and a ransom note. After some investigation, they found her a few hours later, dead in the wine cellar. Her murder has never been solved and is still highly speculated. There have been many documentaries and news stories, telling the facts and trying to find a resolution to this story.
This documentary is something different. Green doesn’t want or expect a resolution. The documentary is set as various actors audition for the parts of Patsy, JonBenét, John and Burke Ramsey. These actors were the focus of the film but Green also held ‘auditions’ for the parts of John Mark Karr, the pedophile who said he killed JonBenét, a santa claus who was at a party and the police chief and other investigators. The auditions go through various sets and scenes but Green’s ultimate goal is to get the actors talking about the case, what they know, what they’ve heard and their personal experiences with it. Green put out the casting call in Boulder, in hopes of gathering the locals and the ones with stories to tell. She asks them how they connected to the characters while on camera and they started telling her very personal things. One had been abused, one’s brother had been murdered, one had a loved one die next to them, one was almost murdered by her father etc. These stories and experiences are what created the documentary.
Green used these auditions to create a new narrative in the story of JonBenét. She says, “We’re interested in their interpretations of what happened that night in the face of knowing they don’t know exactly what happened.” By exploring the theories and stories from the general public, it shows just how distant the story has gotten from the truth. Everyone has created a story or theory about who did it and why, and they are all shared in this documentary. It explores how people talk, think and react to cases such as this and how our own personal experiences influence that. Green very cleverly is questioning if we’ll ever get a resolution to the murder and what everyone believes to be ‘truth’.
Every actor had a different or varying interpretation of what happened to JonBenét during the auditions. To keep the viewer aware that this was simply opinion and was unreal, Green has filmed the interviews with parts of the set in the background, some of the actors talking to crew and even the actors walking around the set. At the end of the film we see all those who auditioned for Patsy and John walking around the interior of the house and practicing their scenes. We then see the scenes cut together in a quick and smooth style. This final sequence re-establishes what Green is going for in this documentary, the amount of possibilities and events that would have occurred are endless are up for interpretation by everyone. The world will always have a new theory or idea about what happened to JonBenét.
Kitty Green has created an extremely unique and attention grabbing documentary- because it’s so different to what we usually see. In a very Errol Morris-esque style, we are given facts and told to create our own story with those facts. The only difference here is that the ‘facts’ we are given are the misinformation spread by the amount of press and news the story received. The film is a comment on how we have started to ignore the actual child that had died, this is shown in the film as we see the little girls audition for JonBenét for around 2 minutes. The media and the public in general seemed to focus on the crime and the news behind it, ignoring the young girl who was actually murdered. They focus on her parents, making stories about them and their family, reading the paper and forgetting about her. The film ends in a beautiful scene where the girl playing JonBenét walks down a hallway of the open set, wearing a costume from her pageant as ‘There She Is, Miss America’ plays in the background. Kitty Green said, “You get caught up in all the tabloid sensation and all of that stuff, and you kind of forget about what’s important here,” Green says. “I always wanted to end the film with her image. It made sense to give her a kind of a swan song.”