Darius McCollum has spent nearly half his life in jail for the crime of driving buses and trains.
The problem: McCollum was never an MTA employee. He was taught the ins and outs of the subway system from childhood by transit workers who adopted him as a “mascot.” By age 8, he memorized the entire subway system. And then a life-devouring obsession born of undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome took over.
Adam Irving’s debut is a fascinating, frustrating and heart-breaking documentary, Off the Rails, a profile of a man seemingly born for one thing – and of a legal system that seems only able to deal with its problems with a hammer.
A self-proclaimed “community servant,” McCollum has been incarcerated some 30 times for the impersonation of MTA employees – driving New York trains and commuter buses, collecting fares, repairing tracks, assisting passengers during service shut-downs, and even fighting for better working conditions and higher wages for a transit union he didn’t belong to.
His story is the stuff of media legend, which Irving traces - with scrupulous archival footage and re-enactments - from McCollum’s first arrest at 15 (after a driver handed him the controls of a subway train so he could pay a visit to his girlfriend). The filmmaker traces a happy home-life and a violent school-room trauma that may have forever altered the young boy’s ability to relate to the world.
But beyond the story of one man’s unique obsession, Off the Rails is an indictment of a legal system seemingly bent on incarceration over treatment. It’s the story of a non-violent man with a mental-health pathology, who may end up dying in jail for want of help.
“With the entire criminal justice system lined up against him, Darius effectively chose to sacrifice his life to this obsession,” Irving says. “If there’s one thing that drew me to his story, that was it.”
“Is there anyone else who would give up 20 years in prison to do something that most people would find completely mundane? Driving a bus? Collecting a subway fare? It’s absurd and tragic.”
Experts, advocates and relatives contribute to the picture of McCollum as the quintessential square peg in a round world, unable to channel his passion and skill into a fulfilling career and meaningful life.
Off the Rails will be shown in these upcoming cities
International Premiere – Hot Docs 2016 - Toronto, Canada
Wed, May 4 at 9:15 PM, Scotiabank Theatre, Cinema 3
Fri, May 6 at 1:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Sat, May 7 at 9:00 PM, Scotiabank 14
Sun, May 8 at 7:15 PM, Innis Town Hall
San Francisco Documentary Festival - San Francisco, CA
Sun, June 12
Tues, June 14
For more information on upcoming screenings visit http://www.offtherailsmovie.com