Casting JonBenet, written and directed by Kitty Green, offers a new angle on the most famous cold case in recent American history. Six-year-old child beauty pageant queen JonBenet Ramsey was found murdered at her home in Boulder, Colorado, on Boxing Day in 1996, sparking a huge investigation and wild public speculation, with suspects ranging from family members to local police and a professional Santa Claus impersonator.
Rather than revealing new evidence or aiming to solve the case, Green’s documentary examines our relationship with public tragedy. She asks local actors to audition to play the Ramsey family in a never-to-be-made film, and through the audition process, hears their theories on the case, before, crucially, teasing out the personal tragedies that exist in the shadow of a more famous, public tragedy.
Nobody really knew what happened yet there were all these fictional narratives bandied about
“There’s definitely been a trend towards true crime,” says Green. “But now it feels like we are moving beyond it. We could be post-true crime. Our role has to be to analyse things from all angles, to show the contradictions and the paradoxes. It is just propaganda if you have one idea and your conclusion before you start.
“We set out to make a film about some of the narratives people tell in order to deal with something they can’t understand, like the death of a child, which is incomprehensible. Nobody really knew what happened yet there were all these fictional narratives bandied about.
“I’d ask about Patsy Ramsey [JonBenet’s mother] and people would tell me about their own mother. It was fascinating how quickly and easily they opened up – about issues from sexual abuse to domestic violence.
“The film is out when everyone is questioning fact and fake news. If we’re not going to know who killed JonBenet, hopefully we can have closure in some other way.”