The short film, named after the dysfuntional bus route, captures the frustrating and occasionally transcendent experiences the B61 delivers as the only public transport to service the isolated area of Red Hook, Brooklyn. Created by local filmmaker Michael Buscemi, "B61" the movie is due to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on Friday as part of a short film program.
"There is no [other] way out of here unless you take the IKEA ferry," said Buscemi, of the neighborhood that juts out from Brooklyn and is home to the city's only outlet of the Swedish furniture retailer. Buscemi believes Red Hook's geography gives it the feel of a small fishing village.
Michael Buscemi's 14 minute film depicts down-and-out New Yorker Vincent, played by the filmmaker, as he attempts to strike up a conversation with a less-willing stranger called Sal at a bus stop. These graceless exchanges over numerous days entertain another silent, amused commuter. The scenes are similar to thousands of interactions that occur on the city’s public transport system each day.
Each day as the same three commuters wait for the B61, Vincent and Sal learn a little more about each other and slowly form a warm, but no less awkward, acquaintanceship.
"Having a good conversation — the opportunity is always there," said Buscemi. "I forget that sometimes."
A Nov. 2011 study on the B61 by Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez and Councilwoman Sara González, not only found that the bus runs late 43 percent of the time in peak hours, but that it is also crowded.
"There are a large number of buses that arrive at stops too full to take on any more passengers during peak hours," the study concluded.
For Buscemi, this situation can create some classic B61 moments.
"The whole ride this kid was on the phone and one of his girlfriends was breaking up with him," he said of one memorable story. The young man’s blaring conversation flooded the packed bus causing smiles, frowns and knowing eye contact between strangers.
"He was saying how good he was for her and she was the problem," said Buscemi.
The breakup continued for 20 minutes. The young man ended with the final comment of "I don’t change, I exchange," said Buscemi, before abruptly hanging up and dialing another woman.
"I got off and I was dying [of laughter]," he said.
There is an essence of this private conversation in public places in the film. Buscemi's character in B61 unintentionally entertains the quite communter as he complains on the phone about complications with his antidepressant medication.
Buscemi, a born and bred New Yorker, fell into acting when he lived in the artist community of the Lower East Side in the '80s and '90s. Now it is how he makes his living.
"It was a big step for me to do a short film, even to write a script," said Buscemi. "I never thought I would do that."
His mission in B61 was not just to capture the life of a troublesome bus route, but to tell the story of an archetype, through the struggling Vincent.
"People struggle. People can relate to him," said Buscemi. "This city can be tough to live in."