Friday, August 31, 2007

Jennifer Venditti in humorous run-in with 'Superbad' creator Judd Apatow

At an Edinburgh International Film Festival Q&A session, Billy the Kid director and producer Jennifer Venditti and Superbad and Knocked Up producer Judd Apatow had a humorous encounter as described on Film Maker Magazine's website by a blogger who attended the event,

"Another amusing incident came during Apatow's Q&A session when, seeing a woman fleeing the theater, he upbraided the audience member asking the question, saying, "Your question is so bad that she's leaving!" The young lady making a quick exit to fulfill interview obligations was none other than one of our 25 New Faces Jennifer Venditti, the director of the excellent Billy the Kid, which has been a favorite among the EIFF festivalgoers."

For more blog entries regarding the festivities, check out Film Maker Magazine's Blog

Chart Attack Reviews 'Billy the Kid'

Kevin Ritchie, from the Canadian music site Chart Attack, takes a look at new and groundbreaking documentaries including Billy the Kid. Below is his review posted on the Chart Attack Website

4 out of 5 stars...

Every now and then, a writer or filmmaker stumbles upon an interesting character in the most mundane of places to create a compelling story from ordinary circumstances. In Billy The Kid, filmmaker Jennifer Venditti does exactly that with Billy Price, a charismatic yet misunderstood 15-year-old high school student with behavioural problems. She essentially mics Billy and follows him around his small town in Maine as he pontificates on everything from his tumultuous childhood to his heavy metal heroes and becomes infatuated with a cute, 16-year-old waitress with "shaky eyes." Venditti brilliantly captures the fumbling awkwardness of Billy's difficult and carefree phase without ever seeming intrusive. Accordingly, Billy's story is both sweetly-affecting and melancholic.

—Kevin Ritchie

Monday, August 27, 2007

Billy the Kid wins Best Documentary at Edinburgh International Film Festival

Billy the Kid had a great run at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, winning the Jury Prize for Best Documentary.
Movie fans from Scotland and abroad attended the festival, one of the most recognized in Europe, and had great things to say about Billy the Kid.

And check out these amazing pictures of the Scottish Highlands!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"a disarming, truthful coming-of-age tale"

We're having an amazing time in Scotland at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. We just had our last screening on Saturday, but in case you missed it, check out the four-star review in the Scotsman:

Billy the Kid


THE documentary Billy the Kid could have been a very sad story indeed were it not for the fact that its subject, a twitchy, nervous hyper-intelligent American high-school student with severe behavioural problems, is clearly determined to savour every second of his life. Jennifer Venditti's film will make your heart break harder and faster than you are probably accustomed to. It outlines some of the difficulties 15-year-old Billy Preston and his mother negotiate on account of Billy's alternative wiring (he cheerfully attributes his condition - the medical diagnosis of which is only revealed in the final frame - to having "different brains").

But watching Billy as he goes about the business of being a normal teenager, he's so attuned to what's going on around him that you can't help but feel positive that things are going to work out for him. The bulk of the film is focussed on his attempts to woo Heather, a fellow outcast on whom he has an enormous crush. This could easily have been a recipe for the kind of mock-the-afflicted documentaries that intentionally or unintentionally exploit their subjects for laughs, but Venditti's sensitive style avoids this completely, offering up a disarming, truthful coming-of-age tale.

Billy the Kid wins Melbourne International Film Festival!

Out of the one hundred documentary features screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival, Billy the Kid was voted the best documentary by audiences beating out Michael Moore's Sicko!

Thank you to the programmers, filmmakers, and audiences at MIFF! And congratulations to the rest of the top ten documentaries:

Top 10 Documentaries:

1. Billy The Kid (Jennifer Venditti, USA)
2. Words from the City (Rhys Graham & Natasha Gadd, Australia)
3. Beyond Our Ken (Melissa Mclean & Luke Walker, Australia)
4. Lagerfeld Confidential (Rodolphe Marconi, France)
5. Dirty Three (Darcy Maine, Australia)
6. In the Company Of Actors (Ian Darling, Australia)
7. Forbidden Lie$ (Anna Broinowski, Australia)
8. Sicko (Michael Moore, USA)
9. Hope (Steve Thomas, Australia)
10. Scott Walker: 30 Century Man (Stephen Kijack, USA)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The road to the Oscars begins....

Coming to a theater near (some of) you!!

Begining in Los Angeles this weekend, Billy the Kid will have a limited run in theaters across the county to qualify for the Oscars.

As AJ Schnack (whose film Kurt Cobain About a Son will be opening in LA at the Nuart on October 5th and at the IFC Center in New York on October 3rd) writes of the LA qualifying screening:

"It's an annual ritual - unknown to almost everyone in Los Angeles - by which you can get a sneak peak of some of the biggest docs of the year, some even before they have their official "World Premiere". But you'll have to go to some of Laemmle's most hidden theaters (all the better to qualify with) like the cavernous Grande in downtown LA or the subterranean One Colorado in Old Town Pasadena."

From Bantam to Fort Collins, Nashville to Rhinebeck, we invite you to catch special preview screening at the follow locations:

August 17-23
Laemmle's Grande 4-plex
345 S. Figueroa St.
Downtown Los Angeles, 90071

August 29-31
Bantam Cinema
33 Village Green Drive, Suite 11

September 4-6
Railroad Square Cinema

September 13-15
Vickers Theater
6 North Elm St.

September 19-20
Lyric Cinema
300 E. Mountain Avenue

September 4-6, 11-13, 18-20, or 25-27
Del Oro Theater
840C East Main St.

October 1-4
Upstate Films

October 14-16
Pickford Theater
1416 Cornwall St.

October 25-27
Little Art Theater
247 Xenia Ave.

October 26 - November1
The Flicks
646 Fulton St.

October 30 - November 1
Savoy Theater
26 Main St.

October TBD
Belcourt Theater
2102 Belcourt Ave.

November 10-12
Newburyport Screning Room
82 State St.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

RSVP Screening at Pace

Thanks go out to GRASP's Ben Fox and New York City Department of Education's Shelly Klainberg for their help in organizing this week's screening at Pace University for the students and teachers of the RSVP program.

In its third year, the program was developed by New York City Department of Education Special Education District 75 and GRASP to teach social and vocational skills to students with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders). With the addition of few GRASP members, we had a lively screening and discussion, with talk about relationships, making friends, and an ASD diagnosis.

As Ralph, one of the students in the program, explained: Asperger's is just a bump in the road. It's there to slow you down, not stop you. It doesn't mean that you cannot cross the road, just that you have to maneuver around it. Karin, a mother of a teen diagnosed with Asperger's, quoted Patty Duke to describe Asperger's as a explanation, not an excuse.

After the screening, Juan, a GRASP community member only recently diagnosed, sent in this high school photo:

He writes, "This may or may not be something; it’s a photo of me my senior year in high school (’91). I’m in the extreme right. Remind you of anybody? (Body pose; sunglasses, even the hairstyle)."

Well we definitely see it!!

Thanks to everyone who came out!

A Mother's Comments

We had a special screening of Billy the Kid this week at Pace University for teens and teachers involved in New York City School District 75's RSVP program (more info on the program, screening, and Q&A in the next post!)

Thanks to Michael John Carley getting the word out to the GRASP network, we also had a few special guests from the Global and Regional Aspergers Syndrome Partnership, including Karin & Jessa, a mother and her fourteen year-old daughter, who immediately reminded us of Billy.

Here is Karin's response to the film as posted on the GRASP Families/Clinicians blog:

I don't know if all of you got the email about the screening of this movie at Pace University. I received it, wrote to the person and took my 14 yr old daughter to see it yesterday.

As the parent of a 14 yr old (almost 15) Aspie - I was in tears by the end of the movie. I felt as though someone had turned the camera on my life and had captured the essence and spirit of my child. I was moved beyond words.

Jennifer Venditti has made such a lovely documentary about a young boy who knew he was "different in the brain" but did not know why. He accepted himself as he is and he lives life to the fullest -albeit with all the inherent social difficulties our kids face. He does it with such a lack of guile and complete honesty that you can't help but be touched by him. Billy was not diagnosed until well after the movie was filmed. Those of us with teeanagers will recognize our own in him.

As a movie about a different kind of kid - wise and innoent yet incredibly socially naive at the same time, it is beautiful, touching and moving. The movie never once mentions the word Asperger's. It is wonderful on its own.

I encourage all of you to see this gem of an experience. I can't thank Jennifer enough for making this movie. Truth be told - even my daughter cried (and she insists that she didn't like it - I suspect that Billy's life and hers are far too similar for her to be comforatble)

If you get the opportunity - see this, expereince this.

Truth & Marketability

Gina Piccolo's article from this past Sunday's LA Times touches on interesting questions about truth, marketability, and documentary films. Currently in negotiations for distribution for Billy, of course, we were intrigued....

"...when a quiet little film about Antarctic birds can pull in more than $125 million worldwide, documentaries have proven they can appeal to the masses, competing for box-office dollars right alongside Hollywood blockbusters. Entering that arena creates a new dilemma for ambitious documentary filmmakers. On the one hand, they want a theatrical release, because that's the tried-and-true path to a broad audience and a high-profile career. On the other, if they stray too far from real life, they risk losing the social and cultural caché of a documentary. A feature film telling the same story just doesn't pack the same wallop."

Audiences of all kinds crave authenticity, and the desire to satisfy that hunger in splashy, dramatic ways has helped warp the line between truth and fiction to the point that the scandals are hardly shocking anymore... Filmmakers, meanwhile, have answered the demand for heightened reality with a flood of documentaries, driven by accessible technology, a polarized political climate and the promise of fortune planted by those rare blockbusters. The market is saturated with docs, YouTube clips and camera phone videos motivating filmmakers to find creative ways to break through the clutter.

In this context, merging documentary and feature film seems like an almost evolutionary step .... It's also the source of the skepticism surrounding "Billy the Kid," about the small-town coming of age of a disabled teenager. In the film, Billy Price meets a girl, falls in love and loses her in a matter of four days -- a neat dramatic arc some viewers suspected was set up. Before Sean Farnel, the programmer for the Hot Docs festival in Toronto, agreed to screen it, he quizzed director Jennifer Venditti until he was convinced the film was authentic.

"There's a lot of new ideas about what documentary is and what it means," said Farnel. "And a lot of the rules that have been set are now being broken. The core of it gets down to the responsibility of the filmmaker to represent events as she or he experiences them. Within that, there's quite a bit of play -- as long as, overall, you've told a story how you've experienced it."

We love Piccolo’s article as a response to John Anderson's Variety review of Billy that misunderstood the film as being scripted:

“The major fallacy about "Billy the Kid" is its masquerade as verite filmmaking. On the contrary: Almost every scene is a set-up, with sequences involving Billy and his would-be girlfriend, Heather, shot from multiple angles, but not, it seems, multiple cameras. That the film feels scripted should shock no one. Venditti apparently spent all of eight days shooting, hardly time to get anyone comfortable, so even the scenes of mother and son are stiff and inhibited, as if being observed by a stranger.

Leave a comment and tell us what you think about the state of documentary film and Billy the Kid's place in it.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Cinematical Indie Chat

Jen sat down with Monika Bartyzel for a Cinematical Indie Chat.
Here's an excerpt from the interview...

What indie films out in theaters, or on DVD, have you been watching lately?

Lately I've been obsessed with Ten by Abbas Kiarostami. It's amazing how the line between documentary and narrative has been blurred. I really love 10 on Ten with the director. I really relate to his vision. Also, I enjoyed Once by John Carney. I thought the performances excellent. I just re-watched one of my favorite films Fat Girl by Catherine Breillat, and I also just re-watched The Five Obstructions by Lars Von Trier.

What's the one indie film from the last year that you'd recommend to friends?

The Lives of Others by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.

What mainstream films have you seen lately that didn't suck?

I've been at film festivals every second or running my casting company, so I've barely seen anything mainstream, but I really want to see Knocked Up. I need to laugh and I heard it's great for that!

Which filmmakers most influenced you in your work?

This question is difficult for me because I am influenced by so many different things. I love John Cassavetes and Robert Altman and am just learning about Kiarostami. I enjoy a lot of films but am most influenced by real life and the characters I see around me every day.

What are you working on now/what's up next for you?

Running my casting company so I can pay for all the debt I'm in from my film. And there's an indie narrative project I'd love to work on but can't mention yet. And I'm working on developing another documentary involving all my casting tapes, auditions, interviews and street scoutings from over the years.

We'll be following Jennifer's new projects, like this mysterious indie narrative she wants to work on, so stay tuned to Cinematical Indie for the scoop.

Go to Cinematical for the full text.