When the Light's Red

How do you decide between help and harm?
Year Released
Film Length(s)
11 mins


What do you do when you're stopped at an intersection and someone with a sign asks you for money? Do you give them some or do you stare straight ahead pretending they're not there? How do you sum up a person in the span of a red light?

Featured review

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED - Not many 11-minute videos change the way you think: When The Light's Red is a thought-provoking short on a troubling social issue.
Randy Pitman
Publisher/Editor, Video Librarian


With humor and compassion, When the Light's Red chronicles the filmmaker's own experience with intersection panhandling. Narrated with his own conflicted and stark inner dialogue, the filmmaker seeks guidance from other drivers, a homeless services provider and panhandlers themselves.The film is ideal for engaging students in discussion about a complex topic, homelessness. With a running time of 11 minutes, it fits perfectly into a class period, leaving plenty of time for writing or discussion.

Recommended by educators as a teaching tool for courses in:

Social Work
Urban Studies
Buddhist Studies


Although Keith Wilson's WHEN THE LIGHT'S RED starts off on an annoying note with the Austin, TX filmmaker's dueling stereophonic stream-of-consciousness inner thoughts regarding panhandlers at stoplights, before long the viewer is forced to admit that Wilson's comments - ranging from "should I give him money?" to "don't make eye contact" - are uncomfortably familiar. Struggling with a situation that many are confronted with on a daily basis, Wilson decides to do a little research: he makes a cardboard sign that reads "what do you think of panhandlers?", stakes out a corner, and talks to motorists and fellow solicitors (among other things, Wilson discovers that panhandlers refer to themselves as "flyers" after the signs they hold). Many four-wheel-interviewees believe that panhandlers are a) nuisances and b) should get jobs (no small feat in recession-stricken America), while the two-legged flyers say they're just trying to get by day to day. Kenny, a man with a busted elbow who suffers from chronic pain, says that "pain will make you do things you don't want to do," and then promptly takes Wilson's proffered five dollars to the nearest liquor store - a walking stereotype. But then Wilson meets Terry, a woman with "wild hair" who keeps a stash of one dollar bills in her car to hand out to people who she feels are trying to make a connection. Wilson ends up still feeling uncertain about how to deal with panhandlers, but he decides that he will "try to at least acknowledge that person," maybe not always with a buck, but at least with a nod, a wave, a nice word, or an apple. Not many 11-minute videos change the way you think: WHEN THE LIGHT'S RED is a thought-provoking short on a troubling social issue. Including both the original and a bleeped version for classroom use, this is highly recommended.
Randy Pitman
Publisher/Editor, Video Librarian
My students thoroughly enjoyed delving into the narrator's innermost thoughts as he examines how to respond to people often perceived as undeserving. This short, poignant film elicits important discussions about the corrosive effects of social inequality, not only on those at the bottom but also on those in positions to help.
Ruth N. López Turley
PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology & Director, Houston Education Research Consortium, Rice University
A quick, humorous and very thought-provoking look at our internal struggles with, and external reactions to, encountering the human faces of social inequality and poverty. It is ideal for use in Sociology courses such as Intro, Social Problems, Social Psychology, and Social Stratification.
Dennis Condron
PhD Professor of Sociology, Emory University
I love this film! A great tool for opening up discussion on homelessness and our response as citizens. I use the film in my Introduction to Social Work class as an icebreaker and conversation starter.
David Jenkins
PhD, LCSW Department Chair & Associate Professor of Social Work, Texas Christian University
WHEN THE LIGHT'S RED provides a view into the commonly experienced but often avoided subject of giving money to panhandlers. This is a wonderful video for generating discussion among college students as the thoughts expressed in it will bring up feelings and opinions we have all had on this controversial subject.
Laurie Silver Dean of Student Life
Prescott College
Poignant and often hilarious take on one man's response to panhandlers...the director has taken an intractable problem and given it a lot of humor while still looking at the serious side.
Austin Chronicle
Austin Chronicle

Awards and Screenings

PBS Broadcast
San Francisco Documentary Film Festival
Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival
Austin Fiilm Festival
AFI/Dallas Film Festival

Promotional Material

Promotional Stills

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