dark days

Perhaps like me, you’ve never heard of Marc Singer’s documentary Dark Days (featuring music by DJ Shadow). Maybe that shouldn’t be so surprising. Spearheaded by an English immigrant with no prior filmmaking experience, shot on a less-than-shoestring budget and barely making a ripple in the American film mainstream, it was easy to miss. But it’s an intimate, emotionally powerful film that deserves wider recognition. Fortunately, the film’s significance is receiving the deluxe treatment to mark its tenth anniversary.

When he moved to New York City from London, Singer took interest in the city’s explosive homeless epidemic. Through friends, Singer learned of a homeless community living in an abandoned subway tunnel that ran from Penn Station to Harlem. Recruiting members of this community as his crew, Singer documented the lives of the “Freedom Tunnel’s” residents, inadvertently capturing the residents’ migration from the tunnel.

The film doesn’t follow a traditional narrative structure. Rather, Singer provides a snapshot of this subterranean community. Throughout, Dark Days still gives viewers a sense of the stories that the individual inhabitants carry: their lives, their losses, their struggles, their regrets, their flaws, their addictions and their perseverance.

A decade later, Dark Days remains a powerful documentary that examines a microcosm of New York’s homeless population. As is made clear by the film’s interview subjects, these individuals have indeed fallen on dark days. Yet the film’s greatest value is that it is not a mere document of a problem. It doesn’t allow viewers to leave the film thinking of homelessness as a lost cause. Rather, the darkness that the film captures is imbued with hope, suggesting that we can in fact work to ameliorate homelessness in our cities.

Oscilloscope’s 10th Anniversary release is loaded with extras. These aren’t cookie cutter extras, but an entire disc’s worth of material that truly supplements the film. Extras include a feature-length commentary from director Marc Singer, a making of documentary featuring interviews with Singer and DJ Shadow, Singer’s return to the tunnel in 2011, updates on the tunnel’s residents, Q&A from a screening at the Maysles Cinema, a photo essay, a featurette on the film’s design, as well as the original trailer.

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