Casting JonBenet, The Ethics of Documentary

Last week, Kim Masters of The Business talked with Kitty Green, discussing her documentary “Casting JonBenet”, in particular how the director coaxed actors into making the film, especially since Green did not intend to make the film in the first place:

“I was very clear to them how I wanted to use the material. The trouble is that it’s difficult to envision what the film would be…They’re auditioning to play out re-enactments and that multiple people will play certain characters”

The ideas behind the film echo that of Symbiopsychotaxiplasm (William Greaves 1968), in regards to multiple actors playing roles and the documentary style of being slightly misleading to illicit a specific reaction. The production of the film also brings into question the ethics of documentary film, in regards to the actors, the crew, and in particular the events that occurred. While Masters and Green do not go into much detail regarding this issue, it is still an important one to consider when watching the film, as such details are critical to audience understanding and digestion of material.

There will almost inevitably be people in the world who digest documentaries as pure fact simply because research was conducted. This is not only dangerous but showcases the general misguided and blind acceptance of those individuals who question nothing and accept everything at face value. The ethics of documentary, in this case, have a responsibility to present the case of JonBenet as accurately as possible and it begins by being truthful to your crew and to your actors. To be clear, Green did nothing wrong, for she was clear with her intentions for the film once it began, but it certainly does not paint a particularly good image for the film if it blanketed with even the slightest layer of deception, especially when it comes to sensitiveness and over-analytical critics.


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