Billy the Kid (Director: Jennifer Venditti, USA, 2007): I’d heard good things about this film when I was at South by Southwest a few weeks ago, but had no idea what it was about. The titular Billy is Billy Price, a 15-year-old living in rural Maine. He’s definitely a bit of an oddball. Left out or picked on at school, he seems to have no idea how to say or do the right thing in social situations. And yet he’s sensitive and articulate and lives by a strict code of honour. First-time filmmaker Jennifer Venditti (whose other job is as a casting agent) met Billy while casting a fiction film and was captivated by him. Shot in just eight days, the film captures, incredibly, Billy experiencing all the exhilaration and terror of first love. There are some moments of such raw emotional honesty that I found myself cringing one minute and beaming the next. Billy’s greatest disability may also be his most winning trait as a film character: he doesn’t have the same boundaries as the rest of us. He shares his heart, sometimes awkwardly but always sincerely.
Though technically the film is very rough (lighting was a particular challenge), the sense of intimacy more than makes up for that. Director Venditti let us know in the Q&A after the screening that since the film’s completion, Billy had been in some trouble at school and was forced to undergo a mental examination. After all this time, he was finally diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism. But Venditti was very careful not to talk about issues of diagnosis or treatment in the film, because her aim was to show Billy as a real and whole person. Often, we define people by the labels attached to them by society, and the only label that could ever encompass Billy would be Billy.
Here is the Q&A with director Jennifer Venditti from after the screening:
NOTE: Billy the Kid screened with a charming little short called The Truth About Tooth, from Scottish director Hazel Baillie, who also appears on the Q&A.