February 12, 2019 / 12:19 PM / 7 months ago

Berlinale film explores white supremacist's struggle to reform

BERLIN (Reuters) - A notorious white supremacist undergoes painful laser surgery to remove the right-wing tattoos covering his face and desperately tries to escape the movement that has become his substitute family in a movie at the Berlin Film Festival.

FILE PHOTO: Actor Jamie Bell gives an autograph at the press conference presenting his film “Skin” at the 69th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, February 11, 2019. REUTERSMichelle Martin

Inspired by a true story, “Skin” explores the life of Bryon, a skinhead who is taken in by fervent white supremacists after a troubled childhood. He attends a racist rally and slashes a black man’s face with a knife at a white pride demonstration.

But he begins to change when he falls in love with Julie, who has quit the far-right movement, prompting Bryon to try and follow suit.

His former friends track him down, beat him up and intimidate him. In desperation, he turns to Daryle, a black man who helps people quit the white supremacist movement in exchange for information. He finds a wealthy donor who agrees to pay for Bryon’s laser surgery.

Israeli director Guy Nattiv, 45, met the real-life Bryon Widner to prepare for the movie. Nattiv said the world seemed crazy now so he thought it was worth telling stories about hope, redemption and forgiveness like Bryon’s.

“My grandfathers and mothers are Holocaust survivors and it was really important for me to show that in this darkness there’s one light and person who’s making the change to become a better person,” he said.

The movie intersperses shots of Bryon screaming in pain as his tattoos are lasered off with scenes of his drink-fuelled racist days and his struggles to leave that life - the white supremacists kill his beloved dog, shoot at his home and scrawl “traitors” on his car.

British actor Jamie Bell, who played Bryon, said the film posed a question, namely: if you have hatred in your heart but go through two years of treatment to remove the hateful ink from your skin “are you changed, and can you ever be changed fully?”

Bell, who shot to fame as the teen star of ballet film “Billy Elliot”, added: “I hope the answer is that love defeats hate.”

Australian actress Danielle Macdonald, who plays Julie, said: “If there is even one person that can see this and think: ‘Oh, there is another option, there is a way out even though it seems impossible,’ then that is worth it.”

“Skin” is one of around 400 movies showing at this year’s Berlinale, which runs until Feb. 17.

Additional reporting by Hanna Rantala; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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