December 4, 2007

Billy the Kid.

Billy the Kid "Don't miss this one," advises Paul Harrill. "It's easily one of my favorite films - fiction or non-fiction - of the year, and probably the best film about growing up that I've seen since Spellbound."

Billy the Kid "is both good and entertaining in the most primal senses imaginable: its direct cinema roots nurturing all the gangly awkwardness and candor of its subject, Billy compels compassion, humor, pity and revulsion on both sides of the camera," writes ST VanAirsdale, introducing his talk with director Jennifer Venditti at the Reeler. "It's a vacuum into which haters will hyperventilate their disapproval while admirers gaze on speechlessly from the outside."

"Coming at similar themes from different corners, assaulting New York audiences on the same day, Juno and Billy the Kid uncommonly and uncannily illustrate the industry's current, massive split between art and commerce," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog:

Updated through 12/8.

In this climate, a servicable teen sex com like Juno can show up in September and, with corporate marketing budget in hand leapfrog over a years worth of comers to become, in the day before its release, an all-but-certain sure thing at the Oscars and at the box office. Meanwhile, a film like Billy the Kid, which in one fell swoop all but changes the game of real teen representation, works the circuit for nine months collecting accolades, misses out on a much-needed Oscar boost and is now - like any true indie in this market - relying on first weekend gross to shape its distribution future. If you're in New York and can only see one film over the next days, I promise you - Juno isn't going anywhere. Billy needs you more.

"It's already scooped up awards at Edinburgh, Los Angeles, and South by Southwest film festivals, and it's easy to see why: this compelling, ingratiating portrait of some days in the life of a charming and troubled fifteen-year-old New Englander, with its canny intimacy and sharp editing, manages to be up-close-and-personal as well as safely discreet," writes Michael Koresky. "What the film lacks in painful revelation it makes up for in the way it avoids exploiting its subject; and, refreshingly, in these days when most documentaries seem couched in meta-commentary, the film never falls back on the crutch of having the filmmaker's ethical dilemma as a pivotal plot thrust."

Also at indieWIRE, Brian Brooks interviews Venditti.

"Venditti's aim isn't to vilify or condemn Billy, only to portray honestly the complex life of a real American teenager," writes Matt Singer at IFC News. "Billy's confused and, yeah, maybe a little unsettling at times, but he's also well-intentioned, honorable, funny and smarter that you expect. Like another similarly potent documentary from earlier this year, The King of Kong, Billy the Kid finds relatability and universality in a story of outcasts."

"This is Vendetti's first film, after a decade as a casting director," notes Julia Wallace in the Voice. "Perhaps this explains her remarkable ability to distill a character in one well-placed shot, a quality that more than makes up for her slightly amateurish camera skills. I have seen more than 25 documentaries this year, and after a while they all start to run together, both structurally and thematically. Billy the Kid is utterly original in both respects."

Updates, 12/5: "Presenting neither an argument for medication nor its rejection, Billy the Kid is a deceptively simple portrait of a shockingly self-aware and articulate young man," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. "Yet the filmmaker's decision to eschew other viewpoints underscores the fundamental friction at the heart of the documentary process: the flattery of observation is difficult to resist."

"Venditti's sensitivity allows viewers to see that this accidental loner, who lives in a trailer with his respectful mother Penny, is uniquely intelligent and sensitive, bestowed with a sense of chivalry that harkens to a more innocent time," writes Danielle DiGiacomo in the L Magazine.

"Cannily, the film leaves unnamed whatever syndrome or disorder Billy has surely been diagnosed with," notes Darrell Hartman in the New York Sun. "'To me, there's no such thing as madness,' he says, and by approaching Billy not as a curiosity or a case study but as a human being, the filmmakers are in implicit agreement. Of course, it helps their cause that Billy, whom Ms Venditti, a casting director, discovered while working in Maine on another film, is a particularly fascinating individual."

For Filmmaker, Nick Dawson talks with Venditti "about her progression to documentary directing, working with Spike Jonze, and the problems of turning up late to see Margot at the Wedding."

"Billy the Kid, a disarmingly funny and genuinely poignant low-budget documentary, sports old-fashioned comedic charm and the psychological weight of a Freudian wet dream," writes Eric Kohn in the New York Press.

Update, 12/7: "Billy The Kid often plays more like an extended home movie than something intentional and artful, writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "But there's something to be said for Venditti's ability to build the kind of trust with a subject necessary to get full participation."

Update, 12/8: For the New York Times, Dennis Lim talks with Venditti - and with Billy: "Speaking by telephone, Billy, now a senior in high school, referred to the documentary repeatedly as 'my film.' He said that he had quickly developed a trust and a rapport with Ms Venditti. 'I actually think of her as family, kind of like a sister,' he said."

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Posted by dwhudson at December 4, 2007 2:46 PM