Documentary Review: CASTING JONBENET

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Casting JonBenet is a deeply disturbing documentary that delves into the still unsolved murder mystery in the case of JonBenet Ramsey, and how the story of the six-year old beauty pageant queen whose short life was apparently filled with abuse has impacted America’s psyche. CASTING JONBENETSMALLER

Rather than representing the circumstances surrounding the actual murder or attempting to solve the mystery, filmmaker Kitty Green uses an usual point of departure to plumb public opinion about what a happened on the night of the murder and who did what to whom.

The film is a compilation of on camera ‘auditions’ by professional and amateur actors to play the various characters in a prospective fictionalized drama/thriller based on the legendary case. Hundreds of people were interviewed and asked to act out short scenes that were to be in the narrative feature.

Among those auditioning on camera are Boulder, Colorado locals who closely followed news coverage of the murder that brought notoriety to their town and/or who lived near and knew the Ramsey family. The wannabe cast members include professional and amateur actors, amateur detectives and crime scene speculators, beauty pageant veterans and others who think they understand and/or consider themselves to be attached in one way or another to the actual people involved in the dreadful crime. Each one of them is interviewed individually on camera, or paired with a prospective partner, and given the opportunity to opine about and discuss the actual events, and to interpret scripted scenes depicting what might have transpired on the night of the murder.

The interviews result in what is not only a fascinating range of opinions, but a very provocative reflection about the ways in which media shapes our thoughts about events, and the conclusions we draw from our media-based observations.

To wit, the perspectives of prospective cast members vary. Some seem to be trying to channel the spirits of their subjects, others say they understand their prospective role because of the circumstances of their own lives, and others seem to desperately want to attach themselves to a project about the notorious event that became part of local lore and of America’s cultural mythology, and that saw wee JonBenet Ramsey memorialized as an icon representing our tragically abused and exploited children.

The compilation of the comments and behavior pf these wannabe cast members is grotesque and agonizing. This documentary is not an entertainment. It is the antithesis of enjoyable. But it is a challenging and necessary provocation to public debate — about our culture’s propensity to make myth of horrific acts of violence and to make icons of those who commit and are victimized by them.

It is akin to The Witness and Tower in its attempt to focus our attention on our culture’s underlying fascination with imfanous crimes and how they enter and impact America’s psyche.

Casting JonBenet is not easy to watch, but well worth the effort.


casting jonbenet posterTitle: Casting JonBenet

Director: Kitty Green

Release Date: April 28, 2017

Running Time: 80 minutes

Language: English

Principal Cast: Hannah Cagwin, Aeona Cruz, Liv Bagley and others auditioning for roles in a narrative feature about JonBenet Ramsey’s murder.

Production Company: Forensic Films

Distribution Company: NetFlix


Official Site:

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