The director of a controversial Oscar-nominated film depicting the events surrounding James Bulger’s murder has said he would “make it exactly the same way” again, despite criticism from the toddler’s family.
Irish filmmaker Vincent Lambe’s Detainment centres around the police interviews of two-year-old James’ killers, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, who were both 10 years old at the time.
The film has been nominated for best live action short at next month’s Academy Awards. An online petition demanding its removal from the shortlist has so far attracted more than 230,000 signatures.
James’ mother, Denise Fergus, has repeatedly called for Lambe to remove the film and accused the director of being “obsessed” with the case.
However, Lambe said pulling the film would defeat the object of creating it and said he had no regrets over the finished product.
He told the Press Association: “The film was made with an honest purpose and I think it’s a legitimate contribution to that discussion, to people who want to look past the characterisation of these children are just evil and monsters.
“I do think the film is important and by withdrawing it it would defeat the purpose of making it. They not only want me to withdraw it from consideration but they don’t want it to be publicly shown, anywhere.
“If I were to make the film again I would make it exactly the same way. A lot of other people who have seen the film, they think it is important as a piece of art.”
Lambe said the controversy following the film’s Oscar nod had been “stressful” and had caused the return of asthma he suffered with during childhood.
Many of the criticisms levelled against the short picture are untrue, he said, such as the claim it contains scenes of violence.
Lamb said: “So much of the reports have been grossly misleading to the point where people think there’s graphic violence in the film and I think that’s why they’re outraged and I can understand that, because I would be too, if I heard about a film about that.”
During a visit to Ireland this week, Mrs Fergus said Lambe had “no right” to make the film and said he is “obsessed” with her son’s case, pointing to his posting on social media.
The director said he only signed up for Twitter and Facebook to promote the film. Lambe revealed he regrets not consulting James’ family sooner, but said he wanted to make a “balanced” film and it could have been prejudiced by going to relatives.
He said: “I would’ve certainly liked to have contacted them before they had heard about the film and that was my intention, actually. In terms of getting permission, I never meant any disrespect by not consulting with the family. I have absolutely enormous sympathy for the Bulger family and I always will have.
“When I approached this case I had sympathy for them and still do. When we set out to make it we wanted to make a film that was fact-based and impartial.
“As a result we just didn’t attempt to contact any of the families involved and decided to rely solely on the interview transcripts and factual material which had been public knowledge for 25 years. If we were to contact one family and not another there would be pressure to tell it how they would like it to be told.”
Lambe made the film to try and explore what made two 10-year-old boys kill, he said, and the reaction has “stifled debate” on the issue.
He said: “When you simply dismiss them as evil it could lead to more similar crimes being committed. It’s in that vein the film was made, to understand why it happened, to start a debate on why it happened. But it’s so unpopular.
“Public opinion at the moment is that those two boys were evil and anybody who tries to understand what could’ve led them to do it other than they’re evil, gets criticised for it and attacked.
“It’s very difficult because as a result it stifles debate on the whole issue were people can’t talk about it and can’t have an informed debate over what could’ve led these two boys to kill.”
Lambe added: “It’s an important film, it’s a challenging film. It’s not my opinion I’m trying to express through the film, that’s not what I’m doing. The film challenges my own opinion and the opinion I’ve always had. That’s how I know there is truth in the film, but the truth isn’t very easy.”
James was two when Venables and Thompson abducted him from the Strand shopping centre in Bootle, Merseyside in February 1993.
They led him to a railway line before killing him. Venables and Thompson were convicted of murder and have since been given new identities.