Tired of living in a litigious nanny state? Maybe you should consider spending some time in India.

Director Adrien Cothier had just wrapped his first semester of graduate school and was looking for a project that pushed him way outside his comfort zone. He found it in the train surfers of Mumbai, India, who risk death riding on top of these high-speed rigs.

Discovering his actual subjects turned out to be pretty easy, he told the American Film Institute. “I started researching local news stories of teenagers getting arrested for train-surfing,” he said. “The more I accumulated information, the closer I came to understanding that this phenomenon happened in a few specific areas of Mumbai. Then, I hired a local translator in order to get in touch with the surfers in case we encountered them. After two days of waiting in train stations, we saw a teenager on the roof of a speeding train. We chased him down and convinced him to let us meet him again with his friends. The next day we went to visit him in his home.”

Since the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008, authorities have cracked down, and filming on or around the trains is strictly prohibited, so Cothier shot run and gun, without permits, and in the end captured footage that’s no doubt loosely, wilder, and a lot more real than if he’d had a handler.

“All around world, the exact same human dynamics are happening but under very different social circumstances. Whether in the rugged outskirts of Mumbai, these kids are in many ways behaving in the same way that New York kids would. In this way it’s a story about friendship and I’d like people to feel it. But I cannot deny that it’s also a story about how being trapped in a life of poverty with very few chances of changing your life and how this will impact the decisions you make as a young person.”

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