It takes an outsider perspective to give Americans a fresh look at a topic they think they know too well, which is why Australian filmmaker Kitty Green mines such rich territory in her post-modern documentary "Casting JonBenet."
Green looks at the still-unsolved 1996 death of 6-year-old pageant queen JonBenet Ramsey without a frame of archival footage or interviews with people involved in the case. Instead, she goes to Boulder, Colo, the town where the Ramseys lived, to create an artificial scenario casting actors to portray JonBenet, her parents Jon and Patsy, her brother Burke, the police chief and even Santa Claus to explore the ways the community was changed by the case.
As the actors 72 of them, all locals read their dialogue, they also talk about the real-life characters they are auditioning to play. The result is a dozen or so Patsys, and an equal number of Johns, trying to get a handle on the bizarre case.
Along the way, they break down the case for or against each suspect and motive, including the father, the mother, the brother or the creepy stalker who tried to confess to the crime (only to have the forensics work prove he was never near the house). They also go off on some strange tangents, like the sex educator auditioning for the police-chief role, who gives a quick tutorial on BDSM equipment.
Green who pulled a similar trick with her 2015 short "The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul" creates a mosaic of opinions that all get to a bigger truth: That this case still fascinates Americans, 20 years after it happened, because of its lurid possibilities and because the case will remain unresolved forever.
Green's crescendo is the final scene, as all the ersatz Patsy, Johns, Burkes and JonBenets perform every permutation of the case, all at once on the same tiny set. It's a beautiful moment where artifice reveals something essential and true.
– Sean P. Means
"Casting JonBenet" screens again at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, at the following time and venue:
• Saturday, Jan. 28, 12:15 p.m., Holiday Village Cinema 2, Park City.