Got a minute? First-time director Jennifer Venditti talks about Billy the Kid, her award-winning documentary about a talkative 15-year-old misfit in rural Maine.
Q: How did you find Billy?
A: I was casting for another project on location in Maine. I'd brought actors from New York, but we were looking for extras. I like to include nonprofessionals, so I asked for access to the high-school lunchroom to observe kids. I couldn't believe the same cliques existed. I asked them why they sat where they did and if they ever tried sitting with anyone else. Some tough guys told me they'd invited someone else over and it didn't go well. They pointed to Billy. He was sitting at a table by himself. Everyone described him with labels—weird, freak—but they weren't helping me understand him. I made this film to understand him.
Q: What did you learn from him?
A: That we're all on the same journey. We're all trying to find love, we're all trying to be accepted. We just get there differently. Billy has so many reasons to fall down, and he doesn't. He's not perfect, and the film doesn't glorify him.
Q: The intimacy gives the film its power. Was it hard to get Billy and his mom to open their home to your crew?
A: My intention was to give him a voice—he wasn't being heard, and he deserved to be. So his mom trusted me. I filmed for only eight days. If I had stayed any longer, it would have been intrusive.
Q: Billy frequently finds himself in awkward conversations with girls and classmates. Was it hard to watch that up close?
A: Oh my God, yes. Sometimes at the end of the day I would cry, or I'd try to talk to Billy. But you don't want to interfere too much.
Q: You've said you like underdogs. What makes them so appealing?
A: I'll have to go to therapy for a long time to figure that out. I like people who go for it, people who aren't afraid to be who they are—and people like that aren't always accepted.
Q: Billy says in the film that he wants his next project to be an action movie. Any interest in directing that?
A: [Laughs] No, totally not my genre. Anyone who wants to, feel free. I'm sure he'd love to read any scripts. Ryan Wenzel
The trailer for Billy the Kid