Jennifer Venditti’s SXSW 2007 award-winning documentary, Billy The Kid, is enjoying a strong opening weekend in New York. Soon, it will expand to theaters across the country. For the Sunday New York Times, Dennis Lim profiles Venditti and her doc subject:
When Ms. Venditti met Billy, she ”immediately wanted to know what was wrong with him,” she said. “That’s how we are as a society. We’ve been conditioned to think if we don’t understand something, we need to put a name on it to help us understand.”
She talked to teachers and students and got “really vague answers,” she said, “like ‘Oh, he’s complex,’ or ‘He has emotional disabilities.’” Billy was found to have Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, last year. But “Billy the Kid,” completed before that diagnosis, mirrors Ms. Venditti’s experience with Billy. It proceeds largely without explanation or judgment.
Ms. Venditti said that “Billy the Kid” reflected “my whole process of thinking about Billy.” She added: “It was almost like an experiment for myself. I want to see what the world looks like from Billy’s point of view. The challenge is to understand someone on their own terms, not on the basis of a diagnosis.”
Billy, to say the least, is unlike most documentary subjects. He makes wary eye contact with the camera and yet is remarkably un-self-conscious about performing in front of it. “I’d set up all these things I was going to do with Billy, but when I got there, I realized he’s been directing and starring in his own movie his whole life,” Ms. Venditti said. “My job was mainly to create a safe environment.”