We all have heard of drug addicted people. Some of them use a certain type of medication that eventually kills them. Some take strong drugs quietly and live much longer. But there is another addiction I’d never heard of – addiction to hijack trains and buses for joy ride. Darius McCollum simply can’t imagine living without trains and buses. Just for stealing them, he has ended up in the prison more than thirty-one times. And if there is possibility that he can do it one more time, no big deal. He will do it again just to feel it. So, if it’s not love at the first sight, then what is it?
Adam Irving as a filmmaker brings his own perspective to the story, which makes incredibly painful to watch his “Off the Rails”. During the Hot Docs International Film Festival in Toronto, I had a great pleasure to sit down with Adam Irving to discuss Darius McCollum and some serious subjects I am sure you will find interesting to read about.
MOVIEMOVESME: Why did you choose Darius’ story for the film?
Adam Irving: There were about four things about the story that interest me. One, I really like subway trains, I’ve been on the subway in fifty one cities around the world. I used to live in New York, so I took the subway everyday to get around. So I can kind of relate to Darius’ story. I’m interested in imposters, and I’m very much interested in stories about crime especially if there’s a controversy. Like Darius committed all these crimes and he pleaded guilty except there’s more to it than that because of the mental illness and everything. Then the last thing was the Asperger’s; it is interesting that he had this condition which made him sort of like a little kid. He knew what he was doing but it kind of made him more innocent than typical criminals. I like stories about criminals who’re likable; it makes you realize that not everyone who breaks the law is a bad person.
MOVIEMOVESME: What do you think was the main reason behind MTA not hiring him?
Adam Irving: The first thing is that when you work for the MTA you have to commit to one position; a bus driver or a train driver. Darius doesn’t really follow rules, so one day he may wanna be a bus driver and the next day he may want to drive the train and MTA can’t have employees doing whatever they want. So even though he’s very good, they couldn’t hire him because he demonstrated over and over that he’s not going to be following the law. The second thing is I don’t think they’ll be able to get insurance if they had someone like Darius working for them. Last thing is that it may kind of make MTA look bad if there’s a guy who’s been in the newspaper thirty times and driving a train. It’ll probably be a little uncomfortable. Since there’s ten thousand people every year that apply for those jobs, why would they give it to Darius when so many other people are willing to do it even though he’s better at it.
MOVIEMOVESME: Does being mentally challenged mean that the society then will deprive him of chances normal people get?
Adam Irving: i would say it’s a story of wasted talent because he’s very capable of doing this. He’s not given an opportunity to have a fulfilling life. So the $60,000 it costs to put him in jail is the same amount of money it would take to hire him to drive the train. So they actually have the money to hire him but instead his freedom is taken away and he’s just sitting in a cell. He’s never damaged any property and he’s not actually a threat, he’s not someone who should be shackled and put in solitary confinement and yet he is.
MOVIEMOVESME: You’ve obseved him, so what is it that you want the justice system to know about him?
Adam Irving: I think the justice system knows pretty much they need to know in their decision saying is he good or is he bad; they have all the information. What they don’t know are things that aren’t really related to his case, like he has all kinds of interesting stories, the way that he thinks; while in jail he’s written a book which is a story in which he plays himself as a superhero where he goes and robs a bank but with the money he feeds children in Africa. So he’s always thinking of crimes but they’re always for the greater good. I know that’s not going to get him out of jail but he truly has this childlike innocence. All of his fantasies are about saving the day, getting the girl and rescuing helpless people. He’s like a criminal superman.
MOVIEMOVESME: What was it like filming him?
Adam Irving: My first impression was that he was so normal and I had expected someone who had spent 20 years in maximum security prison to be a little tough and intimidating. I thought to myself how could he survive here, he’s like a teddy bear. But I learnt with time that he’s human, he does have flaws, he can be stubborn, difficult. He means well but like anyone he has his bad days when he has a bad mood. If he doesn’t get his way he’ll throw a tantrum or get upset. Because of his Asperger’s it was hard for me to get feeling out of him. I didn’t want people to watch the movie and not feel anything for him.
MOVIEMOVESME: Why, in your opinion, did the American justice system send someone with a teddy bear like personality to prison?
Adam Irving: Because I think their determination is just law. Did he break the law? And if so he’s going to plead guilty. Unless you don’t know the difference between right and wrong, no matter how much of a teddy bear you are, they are going to incarcerate you because that’s how laws work unfortunately. Darius does know the difference between right and wrong, so even though he’s a teddy bear he has to be responsible for his actions, from their perspective.