Berlin Film Festival 2017 – Casting JonBenet

Casting JonBenetShowcasing an approach that infused Louis Theroux’s My Scientology Movie, Australian filmmaker Kitty Green analyses her subject through a procession of casting calls for a realisation of a crime that shook a small American town twenty years ago and remains unsolved to this very day: the murder of a young beauty pageant queen.

At the scene of the crime, a 3 page ransom note written in paper from the family home and on one of their pens. Many of the local observers pointed the finger at the parents and, in particular, the mother. We learn that a plea in front of the cameras divided opinion at the time. It continues to be the case.

We never see any of the footage. We never see footage of the victim either. Green elects to depict the crime through the multitude of potential actors given the task of resurrecting the events at the heart of the incident. In the process, the casting exercise is able to funnel various opinions to create a kaleidoscopic impression of what happened. It is an exercise in supposition, conjecture and debate rather than a single coherent angle or truth emerging through the muddy waters.

Cating JonBenet

There is no resolution and Green never shows her hand. There is no presentation of her view. It is all left to the audience’s devices to walk away with an opinion. Is the exercise in bad taste? Is this gratuitous when it could provide a better public service? This isn’t Errol Morris in The Thin Blue Line or Nick Broomfield in Tales of the Grim Sleeper. There are troubling questions over the ethics of this film, because it uses a pitiful tale to evoke a documentary making exercise exploring style and form.

At times, riveting, but overall fluctuating in terms of its effectiveness, it appears that Kitty Green simply wanted to make a point about Chinese whispers and how our subjective views are cleaved from our own experiences. A curious film that impresses technically, but lacking that emotional punch.

Casting JonBenet played at the Berlin Film Festival 2017 and will likely be released in the UK later this year.

About The Author

Having upped sticks and marched down the A13 from Essex into the smog of London, Greg can be found ranting and raging as the Film Correspondent on the Jon Gaunt Show from time to time and also on his weekly 'The Film Review' podcast (plug alert - available on iTunes and Audioboom). Aside from Front Row Reviews, he also scribbles regularly for HeyUGuys. Lowlights, thus far, have been John Hurt scolding with the question 'do you really think like that?', upsetting acclaimed filmmaker Ondi Timoner with his piece for the Sunday Mirror and falling out with the blog editor of the Huffington Post. Oh, and he did bring Liv Ullmann to tears (but in a good way... more of a highlight, that one). He can also be found writing on theatre and music for the Islington Gazette, Ham & High, Hackney Gazette, Bargain Theatre, SupaJam and others. He's often moaning about how tired he is, and he's a frustrated musician.

One Response

  1. Marc

    Wow Greg, were we watching the same film? Lacking emotional punch? The ending was as climatic and intertwined the actors theories, emotions and gravity of the murder. I thought the film was superb, and this is the first negative review I have read. Makes me think we weren’t watching the same documentary.


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