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Director Marc Singer on Dark Days

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Still from Dark Days
Still from Dark Days

Marc Singer talks about his acclaimed documentary Dark Days, currently celebrating its 10th anniversary

The transition from London to New York City at the age of seventeen might seem like a daunting prospect for some, but for film director Marc Singer it was a means to fulfilling his love of exploration – delving alone into the unfamiliar. “I’m not really afraid of the unknown, so what’s the worse that’s going to happen? The worst that’s going to happen is that you’re going to die, in any situation and if you’re not afraid of that, then there’s not really much to hold you back.”

An assertive nature and curiosity swiftly led Singer to befriend the homeless community, retaining particular interest in the residents of the Amtrak Tunnel. “I went in there with this completely pre-conceived idea of what spending time with a homeless person would be like – the idea was very much how it is portrayed in the media, that you have a man or a woman and they’re sitting in the corner feeling sorry for themselves and they’re blaming a lot of people around them. You do find that but it wasn’t the norm – it was really the exception. In the tunnel the only thing you were limited by was how sorry you felt for yourself.”  On a quest for self-discovery and intrigue, Singer took refuge in the tunnels for a number of years, growing close to people of all ages, races and personalities that he grew to find captivating.

“I went in there with this completely pre-conceived idea, which got shattered in the tunnel"

Singer recalls a casual conversation around the bonfire one evening, leading to the premise of the widely acclaimed Dark Days. Having had no previous film experience the undertaking, though testing, was a necessary approach to bring public attention to a worthy cause. “I went to Cinevision and I’d never seen a film camera and I’m looking at all this stuff and a guy comes up to me and I say: ‘Yeah I’m making this film in a tunnel and I’m making a film so I need a film camera.’ It was just completely ridiculous. He taught me how to load the camera; I spent two or three days up there. I asked how much it cost and at the time… it was like 1500 bucks a week, which was a lot in 1992. I had enough money for a week’s rental. I only ever gave him enough for one and a half weeks rental. I had that camera, actually 5 different cameras because they kept getting beaten up, for two years.”

Singer's perseverance and the cooperation from  his peers resulted in the production of a raw and unaffected documentary. “It’s kind of like a soap opera in the tunnel. As you’re filming it and experiencing it you’re like ‘wow, this is so human and honest’. When you’re editing you see all of your mistakes and you’re trying to get over them and also shape it into something that’s coherent. It’s not until I really get close to the end of editing that I thought: 'Is anyone else going to understand this?' You start changing your perspective. At the beginning I didn’t give a shit, I just thought I was having a great time filming. We like it, so that’s all that really matters and then at the end of editing you start to think, are people going to like it? Is it a film? You try and do it the best you can to represent the people you’ve filmed. You’re shaped by it because they’re your friends and you’re trying to help and at the same time you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing.”

Dark Days is screening at the ICA until Sunday February 9. A two disc DVD is being re-released to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the film distributor Dogwoof.

Text by India van Spall


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