Detainment, a short film dramatising the police interviews of the young boys who murdered James Bulger in Liverpool in 1993, has found itself at the centre of a fresh storm of controversy in the wake of an Oscar nomination.
The 30-minute short, written and directed by Dublin-born Vincent Lambe, is based almost entirely on police interviews given by Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, (both ten years old at the time) who became the youngest convicted murderers in recent British history when they were found guilty of killing Bulger, the toddler who had not yet reached his third birthday.
Detainment has been nominated for an Academy Award in the best live action short film category. Denise Fergus, the mother of James Bulger has publicly denounced the film.
“It’s one thing making a film like this without contacting or getting permission from James’s family but another to have a child re-enact the final hours of James’s life before he was brutally murdered and making myself and my family have to relive this all over again,” Fergus said.
An online petition imploring the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to rescind the film’s nomination has collected close to 100,000 signatures.
The publicity surrounding the film has reignited the old debate about the responsibilities of artists and filmmakers who choose to depict and re-enact real life events. In an interview on Good Morning Britain, Lambe spoke of his reasons for making the film.
“People just really couldn’t cope with the fact that these were two ten-year-old boys and the only way they could make sense of it was by coming to the conclusion that they were evil. I just felt it was a very simplistic answer. If people couldn’t accept the fact that they were human beings then they would never be able to begin to understand what could have driven them to such a crime.”
He stressed to Ryan Tubridy during an interview on his RTÉ Radio 1 programme the lack of sensationalism in his approach saying: “There’s no embellishments whatsoever in the film. We wanted to call it a true story rather than say it was based on a true story.”
Lambe has been accused by Fergus and others of exploiting a tragedy for financial and professional gain, a claim he rejects.
“Detainment is not a film I made to profit from financially. I was as surprised as anyone when it made the shortlist,” Lambe said.
RTÉ plan to air the short some time before the Academy Awards, which will take place on Sunday February 24.