Friday, March 2, 2007

Director's Statement

You might say I'm a sucker for the underdog. I have always looked for beauty in the unconventional…

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. His pain in facing the real world was made less by his engagement with pop culture heroes and icons. 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, like a young, modern day Don Quixote.

In making the film, I wanted to pass on the feeling I had when I was with Billy. 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. We saw his mother Penny being his only real friend. 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 childhood, first time love, and life as an outsider.

The future that lies ahead for Billy is uncertain, definitely filled with ups and downs. With this film, I am interested in a life in progress, capturing a moment during this coming-of-age time when his thoughts, dreams, and actions have not yet defined his future. Like Billy, I too believe that the imaginative world can become a 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.

As Billy says, "In the words of The Terminator, ‘The future is not written there’s no fate except what we make for ourselves.’”

Jennifer Venditti, February 2007


veritas said...

after reading your statement i think this movie is going to be awesome.......

Ted said...

Good morning.

When is this documentary being released on DVD? I'm chomping at the bit to see it!