Dir: Marc Singer. US. 2000. 84 mins.
Prod Co: Picture Farm Productions. Int'l Sales: Picture Farm Productions (I) 212-343-2314. Prod/DoP: Marc Singer. Co-Prod: Ben Freedman. Ed: Melissa Neidich. Mus: DJ Shadow.
A remarkable documentary, Dark Days captures the life and soul of a subterranean shanty town that existed for years in the subway tunnels beneath the streets of New York. A haunting account of outcasts forging their own definition of home on the very margins of mainstream society, it cannot fail to touch hearts and challenge prejudices. A highlight at Sundance and Edinburgh, it may not be an obvious theatrical prospect but should enjoy a long life on the festival circuit and secure extensive ancillary sales.
Lacking any previous form of film-making experience, British-born Singer was in Manhattan pursuing a modelling career when he befriended a number of the homeless people in his neighbourhood. The level of trust allowed him access to the underground tunnels where people had been living for years, scavenging off society's scraps and surviving in hand-made housing that utilised electricity from power lines and water from city pipes.
Dark, dangerous, malodorous and infested by plump, king-sized rats, it seems like a vision of hell. As we meet some of the residents and learn their tragic stories, it is revealed as a true community where the human spirit has found solace against impossible odds.
Shot in black and white by Singer himself, the film is unburdened by editorialising. He lets the inhabitants speak for themselves and is content to observe and let the viewer reach their own conclusions. During the five years it took to make the film, Amtrak instigated proceedings to have all the tunnel residents evicted. Singer worked with the Coalition For The Homeless to ensure they were given alternative accommodation and that crisis lends the documentary its dramatic arc and poignant, life-affirming conclusion.