“I’m not black, I’m not white, not foreign … just different in the mind—different brains, tha’s all…” —Billy
Billy the Kid opens in the following cities. Check the film Web site for updates about other cities near you!
December 5 New York IFC Center
January 4 Boston Coolidge Corner
January 11 Seattle SIFF Cinema
January 11 Omaha Film Streams
About the Film
Jennifer Venditti’s debut film, Billy the Kid, is a provocative coming-of-age story, an odyssey into the soul of an American teenager. Following Billy as he bicycles through the quiet streets of small town Maine, we watch him traverse the frustrating gap between imagination and reality, grappling with isolation and first-time young love. By turns exhilarating and disturbing, we see the world from the intimate view of an expressive and seemingly fearless outsider.
You might say I’m a sucker for the underdog. I have always looked for beauty in the unconventional. My work is unusual in that I interview people continuously while maintaining a relatively normal schedule. I cast projects that look beyond the scope of traditional or existing talent pools. I’ve probably interviewed 10,000 people, maybe more, and I always thought one day I would explore in feature form the most expressive of these people, and it was nearly accidental how Billy became the subject of this film.
I first met Billy when I was scouting a high school in Maine to cast real kids as extras for a film. I sat in the lunchroom for several days, marveling at the particular cliques and wondering if any kids ever tried sitting with anyone different. I filmed a table of bullies who described a scenario when they invited a new victim to their table. Apparently, the kid freaked out at the way he was treated. As they all laughed, I asked who this kid was, and they pointed across the room at a boy sitting by himself. “Over there,” they said, “His name is Billy.”
I was both awed by and uneasy with his personality; he was so completely open and without boundaries. When I asked teachers about him, they used phrases like “emotional disabilities,” “extreme caution” and “special learning environment.” Other students seemed either jealous that I was so fascinated by him, or concerned that he was so volatile. The more I was warned away from him, the more I wanted to know. I cast him, of course, and came back a few months later to learn more and shoot some footage of my own. This footage turned into Billy the Kid.
As I drove back to the city after shooting for five days, the one thing I couldn’t get out of my head was Billy saying, “Sometimes the imaginative world’s much better than the real world, but there’s one difference: Imagination ain’t real!” By courage or necessity, Billy had created a technique to help him survive in an environment of pain, conformity, and labels. Pop culture superheroes became his source of confidence. I saw a kid who unknowingly made brilliant, wise comments that were fleeting and overlooked by his community, a young, modern day Don Quixote.
In making the film, I wanted to pass along to an audience the feeling I had when I was with Billy, while many adults were amazed and patient with him, a majority were suspicious, alarmed, and cautious. My urge to figure out what was wrong with him was quickly replaced by uncomplicated appreciation and empathy. Every day we were laughing and crying along with Billy, tethered so readily to his feelings and perceptions. You might say we began filming as outsiders and ended as insiders. We saw his brother Penny being his only real friend but someone too close to his emotional gravity. While I conducted several interviews with teachers, students, family members, and specialists, I ultimately threw them out in favor of Billy’s voice. He tells the story himself, by being himself. All we have to do is experience Billy while he responds to a painful and riveting childhood, first time love, and life as an outcast.
For me this is a moment in time, in my life as well. With Billy up on screen, in the dark, I am interested in a life in progress, capturing a moment during this coming-of-age time when his thoughts, dreams, and actions are still actively designing his future. Like Billy, I too, believe that the imaginative world can become reality. Ultimately, I feel Billy’s journey is connected to all of our journeys, and that what we strive for, no matter how different we seem, is the same: acceptance, understanding, and love.—Jennifer Venditti, May 2007
Director/Producer Jennifer Venditti
Jennifer Venditti makes her directorial debut with the award-winning documentary Billy the Kid (Jury prize Winner SXSW, Jury Prize Winner L.A. Film Festival, Jury Prize Winner Edinburgh International Film Festival, Audience Award Winner Melbourne Film Festival).
Venditti started her New York City-based casting agency JV8INC in 1998. Traveling all over the world, street scouting real people for advertising, fashion, and film she discovers an inspired repertoire of diverse talent otherwise ignored by traditional casting methods. Photographers Richard Avedon and Bruce Weber and director Spike Jonze are just a few who have been impassioned by her refined aesthetic. It is her interest in finding the beauty in everyday heroes that provided her natural transition into filmmaking. While casting Carter Smith’s short film Bug Crush (Sundance Short Film Winner 2006) in a rural Maine high school, Venditti discovered Billy Price whose unique and winning character inspired her feature documentary. Jennifer was named one of the top 25 new faces in Independent Film by Filmmaker Magazine. For more information, click here.
Click here to read an interview with Jennifer Venditti, Director of Billy the Kid