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Zeitgeist Introduces 'Billy the Kid'

6 Sep, 2008 By: Billy Gil

Billy the Kid

The nearly universally acclaimed 2007 documentary Billy the Kid, the first film from director Jennifer Venditti, follows a teen who’s not quite like everyone else.

“I’m not black, not white, not foreign, just different in the mind,” explains Billy Price in the film, which Zeitgeist is bowing on DVD Oct. 28 (prebook Sept. 23) at $29.99.

Venditti had in mind a different film when she encountered Price. She said she likes to cast everyday people and wanted to make a short film about five people she had met. One of them was Billy Price, a precocious, articulate 15-year-old who happens to have Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism typified by difficulties with communication and social interaction.

On her third day of shooting with him, Price met a girl named Heather, whose blindness also made her a social misfit in small-town Maine. When Price fell for her, Venditti knew she had a different kind of film.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” Venditti said. “I felt like I had never seen first-time love unfold like that.”

The film follows Price as he traverses the pitfalls of high school, dealing with mean kids, his patient but cautious mother and finding the words to say to a pretty girl. Frequently Price stops to reflect on his life, how he retreats into history and the music of Kiss, or anything outside the reality of being 15 and misunderstood. After talking to Heather, for instance, Price walks down the street at night, reciting lines of poetry. Boys on bikes drive up and circle him like sharks, cutting short his moment of triumph with their intimidation.

“He’s constantly going into his imaginary world, his sanctuary world, and he’s constantly being pulled out by the harshness of reality,” Venditti said. “While I was with Billy, I started seeing the world differently.”

Venditti wasn’t the only one taken with the young man. The film has won best documentary prizes at the South by Southwest and Los Angeles Film Festivals, and fans such as Oscar-nominated actor Ryan Gosling, who Venditti said had seen the film 20 times, contacted Venditti and became involved with the project for its DVD release. Gosling contributes half of a conversation with Venditti that became a commentary track.

“I don’t totally believe in commentary tracks, but I do believe in discussions,” Venditti said. “It shows another side to [Gosling]. It’s not technical. It’s more just a conversation about human nature and things like that.”

The DVD also has a 30-minute short by Venditti, “Pieces That Don’t Fit,” which incorporates unused footage from the film with new interviews that update viewers on Price after the film was made. Additionally the release boasts an audio feature with music selections from the film and bonus tracks, including indie rock band The Virgins’ “Fight to Survive” (The Virgins’ Donald Cumming was Venditti’s director of photography); an interview with Venditti; an eight-page booklet with commentary by John Elder Robison, author of bestselling book Look Me in the Eye, about the author’s diagnosis with Asperger Syndrome; and a new essay by artist/filmmaker/writer Miranda July (Me You and Everyone We Know).

“[Robison] thought it was important for people to see the film because it’s not a diagnosis film and not an Asperger film,” said Venditti of the film, which never declares Price’s condition. “It’s not a disease that needs to be cured, it’s a different brain chemistry that needs to be understood.”

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