RiverRun 2016: Off the Rails


Asperger’s syndrome, an autism-spectrum disorder, causes obsessive interest in one or a few different subject areas. However, not many of these obsessions land people in jail for most of their lives.

off the railsOff the Rails, a documentary by Adam Irving filmed partly in Winston-Salem and Greensboro, details the tragic story of Darius McCollum, a New York City native with Asperger’s syndrome intensely interested in mass transit. Like many documentary profiles, the film follows its subject through day-to-day life, artfully supplemented by dramatizations, some animation and numerous interviews with friends, family and sympathizers.

McCollum’s life unfortunately finds him in and out of prison.

His crime? Commandeering subway trains and buses. Since 1985, McCollum has been charged some 30 times, earning him the moniker “the Public Transit Bandit.”

But there’s no malice in these crimes, no financial end or harmful intent. All he wants to do is ride the routes and get people from place to place. And he did so each time without incident.

Most interviewees come to the same conclusion: The MTA would benefit greatly from hiring McCollum; the job would be a dream for him.

But the man is doomed to be misunderstood.

Off the Rails doesn’t just cover McCollum’s life. It’s a case study on addiction, obsession and correctional failures for those with mental illness.

Off the Rails screens on April 10 at 4 p.m. at A/perture 1 and April 11 at 5 p.m. at SECCA

— Anthony Harrison