From my first steps down into the NYC subway I was fascinated by the entire world that lay beneath the streets of the city.
In 2009 I began carrying my video camera on the trains every day, trying to capture some of the mysterious, emotional and deeply moving moments I was seeing.
I shot for over 7 years. The more I shot, the more this shadowy realm of the underground became a strange mirror world of the reality above ground. In this most populous of public of spaces people seemed unaware they were revealing glimpses of their most private selves.
The entire film was shot on a camera just slightly larger than a pack of cigarettes. Most people were aware I was filming them. I did not try to hide the camera but its size helped make it less conspicuous. Nonetheless, the moments I sought were agonizingly elusive. For every ten that appeared before me I was lucky if I captured one.
I rode in between the cars of rocketing express trains, holding on with one hand and leaning out to aim the camera up along the cars. Any time someone looked at me with anger or discomfort I stopped filming. I was pulled off the train 3 times by the police. One cop in plain clothes wrote my name and address on his palm with a big Sharpie.
But, after two decades in the independent film business it was exhiliarating to make this film with just me and the camera. No producers. No money people. No notes and no test screenings. My only obligation was to present a film as close as possible to what my eyes were seeing.
The film was picked up for distribution in 2017 by Factory 25.
It is now showing on Amazon.
“Tom DiCillo has made an extraordinary film that is simultaneously meditative and exhilarating, surreal, and often heartbreakingly beautiful, Down In Shadowland is a masterpiece of keenly observed human experience that transforms the subway underground into something deeply mysterious and mystical.”
“If the whole of humanity were marched before our eyes, it might resemble Tom DiCillo’s new film, Down In Shadowland, a descent into the subterranean universe of the iconic New York City subway.”
– Barbara Pokras, Woodstock Film Festival
“Tom DiCillo’s latest film, DOWN IN SHADOWLAND, was made over the course of 7 years. He made the film entirely by himself, motivated by a fascination with the secret lives of people on the subway that began when he first moved to NYC in the mid ‘70’s. What resulted is a hauntingly beautiful hybrid of the documentary form. Although every frame in the film is real, the film refuses to settle into the rational world of the traditional documentary. Instead, DiCillo's roving yet unobtrusive camera mingles with the denizens of this subterranean microcosm, working its way through a dense network of human emotion to achieve a truth that becomes more elusive and poetic.”
-Wayne Byrne, Film Ireland