As Christians working in Hollywood, it’s easy to get defensive. There are so many stories about the dark side of the film industry that it can often feel like we’re asked to justify being here at all. The question comes as, “How can you stand the vice and the scandal?” and at certain times, admittedly, we can’t. But there are other times, such as the days we were recently able to spend at the Windrider Forum at the Sundance Film Festival, that remind us: the power of storytelling is real, and a great film can truly convince you of the good in humanity.
The Windrider Forum is a weeklong event that brings together over 500 seminary students, teachers and community leaders to join together in sophisticated discussion of Sundance films through a specifically Christian lens. It includes screenings as well as Q&A’s with the filmmakers, and this year LightWorkers was proud to participate as a sponsor and present the award for Best Inspirational Short Film. The film that we chose was a 12 minute documentary called Beneath the Ink, from filmmaker Cy Dodson, and it perfectly encapsulated one of our guiding principles here at LightWorkers: that no matter the darkness, good can never truly be extinguished.
Beneath the Ink tells the story of Billy Joe White, a tattoo artist in Zanesville, Ohio who offers to cover up swastikas, Klan imagery and other hateful tattoos for free. By finding a way to use his talents to shape the world around him for the better, Billy is also able to heal some of the emotional wounds in his own heart. You can see for yourself by watching the entire short film below. What struck us most profoundly was how the film captures the most important ability that we have: the ability to change. Every day our newsfeeds are so filled with stories of hate and division that it becomes easy to assume that these divisions are permanent. That it’s just how things are. But Beneath the Ink proves that this isn’t the case. Billy, and by extension the film itself, does not judge or condemn the people who at one time held these hateful views; but instead celebrates that they retained the capacity to grow out of them. Even so deep in the darkness of hate, they still weren’t completely out of reach of the light.
After the screening to the Windrider audience we were fortunate enough to sit down with the filmmaker Cy for an interview and introduce him to Phil Allen, an African American pastor at Own Your Faith Ministries near Santa Clarita, CA. Phil had been in the audience during the screening and been profoundly moved by the healing of racial divisions portrayed in the film when John, one of the subjects of the film, comes into Billy’s shop hoping to cover the tattoo of a cross-burning on his back. John recounts the spiral of depression that followed his father’s suicide and led him to a life full of hate before he was able to recognize the damage it was doing to himself and others. John, a white man, actually got to the point of adopting a young black child with his now ex-wife and the rekindling of love and compassion evident in this changed man brought Phil to tears.
This was one of many moments during Windrider and Sundance that renewed our faith in the power of film, and over the coming weeks we will be releasing footage of these highlights to show why we are more passionate than ever about the work we get to do. Using our platform to spread positive, uplifting stories isn’t about the thrill of seeing our names pop up in the credits of a well-received video, it’s about engaging with the world from a place of inspiration. It’s about sharing examples that prove being a Lightworker isn’t just happy slogans or simple ideas about positivity, but about showing how those ideas can translate into real life.