Billy the Kid: Jennifer Venditti’s Tale of Outsider Boy

Cannes Film Fest

I’m not black, I’m not white, not foreign just different in the mind different brains, thats all–Billy

Jennifer Venditti is the producer and director of Billy the Kid, a humorous portrait of Billy, a 15-year-old outsider growing up in small-town Maine.

Billy appears like other teenage boys. He’s into heavy metal and martial arts, he is desperate to find a girlfriend, and he aspires to a career as an actor and rock star. Yet in other ways Billy is unique. A troubled past and ongoing behavioral issues have left him marked. But he is unapologetic about his personality and refuses to be victimized, creating his own techniques to help him survive in an environment of pain, conformity, and prejudice. Billy is funny, sharp, strangely wise for his age, and remarkably candid. We witness life from his perspectivefrom intimate conversations with his mother, to being bullied at school, to his fantasies of becoming a superhero.

We also experience the exhilarating pangs of first love as Billy pursues Heather, a shy 16-year-old waitress.

The questions are: Will Billy get the girl? Will his community accept him on his own terms?

Venditti’s Statement

You could say I’m a sucker for the underdog. In life, Ive always recognized beauty in the unconventional. As a filmmaker, my intent is to take the viewer into the worlds of complex, unique people. I hope to compel the viewer to recognize the extraordinary in the ordinary, to confront stereotypes and broaden our appreciation for individuality. As a casting director, I cast projects that look beyond the scope of traditional or existing talent pools. During the 10,000+ interviews Ive done, in the back of my mind I always thought about exploring the most expressive of these people in feature form.

Meeting Billy

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, studying the particular cliques and wondering if any kids ever tried sitting with someone other than their usual set. I filmed a table of bullies who recounted a story of inviting a victim to their table. Apparently, this particular kid freaked out at the way they treated him. As they all laughed after telling me this story, I asked them who this kid was. They gestured across the room to a boy sitting by himself. Over there,” they said. “His name is Billy.

Awed and Unnerved

I introduced myself and within seconds I was both awed and unnerved by his personality. I was mesmerized by his candor and his disregard for any of the usual conversational boundaries. But 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 expressed concern that he was so volatile. I cast him in the film I was scouting for and a few months later, I returned to film this portrait of him.

In making the film, I wanted to convey to an audience the feeling I had when I was with Billy. While many adults were amazed and patient with him, the majority of them were suspicious, alarmed and cautious. My urge to figure out what was wrong with him was quickly replaced by uncomplicated appreciation and empathy. I became tethered so readily to his feelings and perceptions. His commentary on so many subjects was unwittingly wise and bright, but it was always ignored by his peers and his community. I saw him in some ways as a young Don Quixote. Though 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 intense childhood, first time love, and life as an outcast.

A Moment in Time

The film captures a moment in Billys adolescence when his thoughts, dreams, and actions are still actively designing his future. Ultimately, I feel Billys journey is connected to all of ours and that what we strive for, no matter how different we seem, is the same: acceptance, understanding, and love.

I intend to continue making films that challenge the viewers expectations, and my hope is that audiences will leave the theater either inspired or unsettled enough to start their own discussion.