When Minneapolis filmmaker Cy Dodson recently learned that his short documentary “Beneath the Ink” was selected to compete for an Academy Award, he was delighted.
As a full-time producer of commercial videos, “That’s not something you hear every day,” he said. The film might be announced early next year as being on the shortlist of Oscar finalists. Even if that doesn’t happen, Dodson figures he still has “bragging rights for the next six months.”
But the real value of the short film, what makes it his “passion,” he said, is in the timely human message it tells. It’s a portrait of ink artist Billy Joe White, whose Red Rose Tattoo studio in central Ohio has become a site for person-by-person ethical reformation. White donates his body alteration service for free to anyone who wants to cover up hate images of the Ku Klux Klan, swastikas and rebel flags.
The film, screening Wednesday at Walker Art Center, follows White as he gives away his talent and time to help people face their pasts and change their lives. With elaborately feathered birds of prey and detailed flowers, he helps them conceal their “mistakes.”
When Dodson learned about White using tattoos to erase hate, he knew he had found “a story that could resonate with people.”
“A lot of things are affecting our society right now. I see Billy as somebody who’s standing and actually making a difference. Instead of rhetoric, Billy’s actually making a difference in people’s lives.”
Not everyone who came to the tattoo studio while Dodson was filming was willing to be on camera. But he was able to persuade several clients to share their histories and changing beliefs in candid detail.
“For me, it’s always been easy to let people talk,” he said. “I’m not much about leading the conversations. I like hitting the ‘record’ button and letting people tell their stories. Poignant, heartwarming stories. I’m kind of a sucker for that sort of thing.”
Said Jatin Setia, executive director of the Twin Cities Film Fest, “What stands out about Cy’s films is the effortless way he moves through storytelling with character development while striking the right balance visually with cinematography.
“Cy is a wonderful talent, and I have no doubt we will see him on the big stage sooner rather than later.”
Dodson’s immediate goal for his film is “to get a home for it in a festival like Sundance or South by Southwest, so people can see it.” And if his creative calling card draws the attention of film industry decisionmakers, he would hope to “stay with Billy and expand it into a feature doc.”
“Beneath the Ink” is making an impact on national film festivals. Among others, the Palm Springs International Film Festival, Los Angeles Dances with Films program and Cleveland International Film Festival have awarded the film best documentary prizes.
Given that momentum, more awards in the run-up to the Oscars seem likely.
See ‘Beneath the Ink’
“Beneath the Ink” will be screened 7 p.m. Wednesday as part of Walker Art Center’s “MNTV 2018: On the Big Screen,” a preview screening of short works that will premiere on Twin Cities Public Television in September. Admission is free.