DOC NYC Film Festival Continues This Week
By Annika Andersson, Contributing Writer, November 14, 2016
More than 250 films are being shown in lower Manhattan as part of DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival. The festival only lasts one week (until November 17), but the journey of the films continues. These three documentaries cover a variety of topics from mental and reproductive health to home care, and gives a unique insight to some of those whose lives are affected. Follow the stories of locally famous Darius McCollum who steals trains, the relentless efforts of committed clinic workers to provide services when a myriad of new laws are created to prevent them, and the caretakers and caregivers of the elderly who we rarely see and don’t know exist. Enjoy the journey!
Off the Rails
Off the Rails is the tragicomical story of Darius McCollum’s lifelong obsession with the MTA system, which has landed him in jail more than 30 times. How? Because he’s been illegally driving buses and conducting subway trains, by impersonating an MTA employee. And why would he do something like that? McCollum has Asberger’s Syndrome, and some of the traits are preferring abstract things to people, a need for regularity and set schedules, and an all-consuming obsession in one matter, of which they often become experts. Trains and buses, with their set schedules, would have a natural draw for someone with Asberger’s. And as far as developing expertise in a matter, it appears that McCollum has been doing the MTA employees’ job far better than they have, even functioning as an adviser of sorts to the MTA on safety issues and more.
It all began when McCollum sought refugee from childhood bullies in the subway, and soon became a mascot of the transit workers. At age 15 he managed to drive a train several stops alone, before someone noted that the train was operated by a suspiciously young looking driver, which led to his first arrest. Later on he applied for work with the MTA, but given his track record, was rejected, and they still won’t employ him. On one hand he’s the most knowledgable and passionate worker any employer could ask for, but on the other, given his inability to master his impulses to steal a bus or a train, he also imposes a security risk too great to take—especially for one of the largest transit systems in the world. Sadly, his extensive knowledge about the transit system landed him in an isolation cell in prison at one point, to prevent him from leaking classified information to potential terrorists.
The film explores a life which doesn’t fit the norms. This gentle giant, who’s never harmed anyone, does not belong in jail with gang leaders and rapists and murderers. While the film does not offer any solutions, it gives an important insight to a system that doesn’t know how to deal with mental issues.
Off the Rails has won may awards during it’s impressive film festival run, and will have its theatrical release in New York November 18 at The Metrograph, and it’s digital release on Sundance Now on December 8.
Cover: Darius McCollum in a scene from ‘Off the Rails’
Director Dawn Porter’s latest film, Sundance winner Trapped, focuses on reproductive-health clinics in the South struggling to stay open. Hundreds of regulations were passed between 2011 and 2013, restricting access to abortion in America. They are referred to as “TRAP” laws, or Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. Requirements such as requiring physicians to obtain admitting privileges from local hospitals for any doctor performing abortions, or requiring clinics to undertake expensive renovations such as widening hallways by a few inches to accommodate wheelchairs and gurneys they will rarely use, have forced clinics to close. In Texas, less than half of the clinics open in 2013 remain, while three clinics struggle to stay open in Alabama. Only one abortion clinic remains in the whole state of Mississippi.
Needless to say, the effects have been devastating. Women travel across state lines for help, often receiving no help at all. Trapped tells the tales of some of these women, desperately seeking abortions because they can’t afford another child, because they are too young, or worse. The film also shows the relentless efforts of a few committed clinic workers who just won’t give up. One of the clinics was awarded a victory in the Supreme Court this year. However, the recent electoral outcome has put a new urgency to the matter, making Trapped a must-see, to fully comprehend what’s at stake.
Trapped won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance this spring, and has continued to run successfully at a number of film festivals. Trapped is now available on Amazon Video.
Care is a documentary about America’s paid home healthcare system, directed by Deirdre Fishel. The idea came about when she had to seek help for her own family. Searching for alternatives, she discovered an unregulated system with poverty wages, where workers sometimes make as little as $6 per hour. Fishel noted that since no documentary had previously been made on the subject, and being influenced by the Oscar-winning feature film Amour, about an elderly husband tending to his wife, it seemed the time was right to make her documentary/exposé about home care.
The documentary follows undocumented home-care worker Vilma, who lovingly tends to 93-year old Dee, a former businesswoman living in Staten Island, 3,000 miles away from her closest family. But full time home care ends up being costly in the long run, despite the low wages, and Dee is running out of funds. Laurie is a mother of five, who takes care of wheelchair-bound Larry in a small, rural Pennsylvania town. Strong bonds are formed between the care takers and care givers, and when death ends the working relationship, grievance follows. The third family we follow lives in Manhattan. Toni explains how her husband, a former CBS executive, suffers from severe Parkinson’s disease, and needs around-the-clock care. Fishel filmed these families verité style, in order to bring attention to the growing matter of our aging population. It’s a peek into a future in which we are all heading. Her aim is to make the audience wrestle with one of the biggest question of our time — how are we going to care for our elders and the workers who allow them to live with dignity?
Care will air on America Reframed in 2017.