Billy Dean Anderson was my mother’s cousin. He was raised by his grandparents on the Upper Cumberland Plateau in Pall Mall, Tennessee. As a boy he was involved with the church and on the path to becoming a preacher, but at a distinct point he took a drastic turn toward crime. He was obsessively creative and deeply connected to nature but had a violent, criminal streak. The film confronts these two extremes, both explosive and spiritually redemptive, and explores the insular society he called home. Through oral accounts from family, friends, ex-convicts who served time with Billy, local law enforcement, as well as the FBI agent who led the manhunt for Billy, we see how a young man’s tumultuous relationship with the law expands into a broader story of community and loyalty.
Billy painted dozens of paintings during his life, and found a way to pursue his obsession while he was on the run from the FBI and living in the cave. Many of his pieces are still displayed in local homes and churches throughout Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky, and beyond. Despite Billy’s violent and conflicted life, I think the positive takeaway can be a story of redemption through art – that his passion to create became a healing force for him, his family, and his community.