This is the first of an upcoming movie recommendation series. If you’d like these recommendations delivered to your email on a regular basis, sign-up here.
Dark Days (2000) is a powerful film, made even more powerful by the story behind it.
Often great filmmaking is the result of “happy accidents” – moments where the conditions come together to create something you couldn’t have planned. Dark Days is the result of nearly a decade of happy accidents. It is the rare case where a filmmaker with zero filmmaking experience managed to pick up a camera and create something that is not only beautiful, but actually accomplished the intended social change – getting housing for it’s subjects – the homeless people living in the tunnels underneath New York city.
The cinematography is gorgeous. A friend of director Marc Singer told him, “if you shoot color and you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll fuck it all up and it will come out looking all green or red.” 16mm b&w is the cheapest film stock there is. The director knew films had moving shots and wanted some for his film – so he built a dolly rig that could glide along the tunnel tracks underground. The result is long beautiful black and white shots drifting through the darkness of the tunnels. They shot film for years before having the money to develop it, fingers-crossed that it would actually come out good. How many happy accidents is that for just the cinematography alone?
Because the director lived underground with his interview subjects – how’s that for commitment? – they are completely at home around him. We are a fly on the wall for a world most of us will never experience. It doesn’t patronize or look down on the homeless. It humanizes them. We feel for them, and feel with them by the end when they finally find housing.
Speaking of feeling, Dark Days is known for it’s music by DJ Shadow. In another happy accident, the filmmakers were able to license his music. Shadow is known for being protective of his music rights. In interviews, he said he sat down to watch the film expecting to say no, and then being blown away by the film. He not only gave them music rights, but remixed his work for them and composed an original theme. So those hypnotic black and white images are accompanied by moody instrumental hip-hop beats.
What inspires me about Dark Days is that it’s a testament to what you can create by just moving forward with what you have. At every stage it seems like the director just thought “films have moving shots… We need moving shots… Somehow we’ll be do that… We need this music… Somehow we’ll get it… We can’t afford film stock… Somehow we’ll get it.” This attitude of just moving forward and knowing you’ll find a way has definitely informed my own filmmaking process.
If you’re looking to be inspired by the journey out of a dark place, this is a good film to see.
- Watch Dark Days (2000)
If you’d like more of these film recommendations, sign-up for my email list here:
Read More: How To Recommend Movies