2017 Sundance Docs in Focus: CASTING JONBENET

casting jonbenetCASTING JONBENET
Kitty Green’s hybrid explores the 1996 murder of the child beauty pageant winner from the perspectives of the local community.

Festival Section:
US Documentary Competition

Sundance Program Description:

After twenty years of media speculation and public hysteria, the unsolved death of six-year-old American beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey remains one of the world’s most sensational child murder cases. CASTING JONBENET presents audiences with a hybrid of nonfiction and fiction filmmaking that examines the complicated legacy of this tiny starlet.

Relying on a local casting call to entirely voice her film, director Kitty Green expands on a fascinating technique she last explored in her short film which won the 2014 Jury Award for non-fiction (THE FACE OF UKRAINE: CASTING OKSANA BAIUL). Foregoing a standard investigative documentary style, she instead scrutinizes the court of public opinion by inciting responses, reflections, and even performance from members of the Ramseys’ own Colorado community. Her unique approach allows for all the fact and fiction of JonBenet’s case to be shared while deftly questioning the way individuals search out their own subjective truths.

Some Background:

  • Kitty Green
    Past Sundance docs:

    THE FACE OF UKRAINE: CASTING OKSANA BAIUL (short) (2014, jury winner)

    This is Green’s second feature, following UKRAINE IS NOT A BROTHEL, which debuted in Venice in 2013. She received support for JONBENET from the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program in 2015.


  • Scott Macaulay
    Macaulay is the longtime editor-in-chief of Filmmaker Magazine and produces through his Forensic Films shingle. He has produced or executive produced several Sundance narrative films, most recently WAR STORY (2014), but this marks his first nonfiction entry at the festival.

  • James Schamus
    Past Sundance docs:

    WONDERLAND (1997, executive producer)

    The former Focus Features CEO and Good Machine co-president now produces through Symbolic Exchange. An Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and producer, he is also a Columbia University film professor. Among his scores of credits, Schamus is particularly well known for his collaborations with Ang Lee. Aside from the Sundance documentary credits noted above, he has produced or executive produced numerous fiction entries, from POISON (1991) and THE BROTHERS MCMULLEN (1995) to this year’s NEXT selection DAYVEON, and also premiered his directorial debut INDIGNATION at least year’s festival.


  • Mitch Dickman
    Past Sundance docs:

    SPEAKING IS DIFFICULT (short) (2016, cinematographer)
    BEING EVEL (2015, line producer)

Executive Producers:

  • Jennifer Dong, Figo Li
    Dong is the CEO of China’s Meridian Entertainment, with which Schamus’ Symbolic Exchange has a first look deal. That deal was negotiated by Li.


  • Davis Coombe
    Past Sundance docs:

    BEING EVEL (2015, editor/co-producer)
    CHASING ICE (2012)

    Coombe is also the editor of fellow 2017 US Documentary Competition title CHASING CORAL. He previously produced and edited the Academy Award-winning short SAVING FACE, the Academy Award-nominated short THE LAST CAMPAIGN OF GOVERNOR BOOTH GARDNER, and the Academy Award-shortlisted doc feature KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON.

Why You Should Watch:
Green’s self-conscious blending of fictional and nonfictional elements artfully interrogates the JonBenet Ramsey case and its lasting imprint. Setting the film within the family’s community, she offers a candid, complex, and multiperspectival entry into the memories and theories engendered by the infamous crime and its aftermath which proves intriguing and provocative, calling to mind 2016 Sundance alum KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE.

More Info:
For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.

To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance 2017 Twitter list.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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