Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Local filmmaker earns award for documentary at film festival

Posted on 28 May 2018 by calvin

Above: An image of a Klansman gets covered up by a new image. (Photo provided)

Longfellow-based filmmaker Cy Dodson won an Honorable Mention Jury Award at the recent Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF) for his short documentary “Beneath the Ink.” The film is also an official selection at this year’s Palm Springs International ShortFest and Film Market and is one of 325 films chosen from 5,400 submissions.

The film features Billy White, a tattoo artist in Zanesville, Ohio, who sets out to “erase the hate” by covering up hate symbols and racist tattoos for free. One customer, a young woman who works in daycare, comes in with a swastika on her foot, another with a hooded Klansman on his back. Each of these tattoos is ultimately covered with intricate and colorful designs, with no trace of the former visible.

Photo right: Cy Dodson, center, stands outside St. Anthony Main with fellow filmmakers Nick Clausen (left) and Mark Brown (right) in the blizzard during the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival in April. (Photo by Josh Gumiela)

To understand why people would come forward, Dodson put himself in their shoes.

“If I had something like that on my body, if I had to look at that every day and be around people and see this on myself, I would think it would be a huge weight off,” he said.

But the choice to come forward publicly may owe as much to these individuals’ desire for change as it does the approachability of both White and Dodson. The result is a film that is free of judgment that gives its subjects room to share their very personal, uncomfortable, stories.

The young woman admits it is “embarrassing” to have a Nazi symbol on her foot while caring for young biracial kids. The other wants to do right by his adopted African American son. It’s an emotionally-charged 12 minutes and a strong testament to Dodson that he allows their humanity to shine through.

Dodson was also in familiar territory: Zanesville is his hometown.

Photo left: Film production setup at Red Rose Tattoo for Dodson’s short documentary “Beneath the Ink.” (Photo provided)

The documentary opens with a somewhat bleak picture of this small town in Appalachia. Buildings are being razed; jobs are scarce, and, as White’s voice-over narration informs, people are “legit struggling.” It’s also an area where racism makes its way into casual conversation enough that as a young kid Dodson thought, “I know what I don’t want to be when I grow up.”

“[Racism] is prevalent. It’s still there,” he said. “It’s everywhere.” Which, is one of the reasons he was interested in the story. He didn’t know any of the subjects in the film, but after reading in the Zanesville newspaper of one person taking advantage of White’s offer, he hoped others would be willing to tell their stories, too. One of his subjects in “Beneath the Ink,” John Lemaster, was understandably very skeptical at the beginning.

“I don’t blame him. I just show up,” said Dodson. But once Lemaster opened up, it became apparent that he wanted to get his story out there.

Photo right: Early design work to cover up swastika tattoo. (Photo provided)

While Dodson freely references the racism he saw growing up, he also suggests it isn’t a complete representation of Zanesville. He loves his hometown and feels very comfortable there.

“There’s a welcoming open door when I go back home,” he said.

To those who may reject the connotation that there is racism there—or even that Zanesville is as downtrodden as the opening sequence might suggest—Dodson will point out that the overall message isn’t negative.
“It is profoundly about a couple of people who are trying to change,” said Dodson.

Triumph Pictures
In the storytelling business for more than 20 years, Dodson is drawn to these stories of individual renewal and triumph. His first film, “The Ragman: A Hobo’s Story Untold,” is a musical collaboration that uses the lyrics of songwriter and vagabond Michael Bork (The Ragman) to chronicle his life on the road. The film was the Jury Selection winner at the 2017 MSPIFF.

“My Last Breath” is about 17-year-old Josh LaRue who falls into a coma and is left paralyzed and unable to speak. He learns to write by tapping morse code with his tongue, thus creating a means for communication and getting his stories into the world. This film was the 2015 Emmy Awards winner for best documentary in the Midwest region.

“Beneath the Ink” is Dodson’s third film in five years. The trailers for each can be seen on his website at

Dodson got his start in reporting and photojournalism at a news station in Zanesville before moving on to Roanoke, VA, Lexington, KY, and eventually the Twin Cities. His company, Triumph Pictures, is based in the Longfellow neighborhood.

Dodson will be screening “Beneath the Ink” at the Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles in June and plans to take the film to his home state sometime this summer.

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