The only whirlwind stronger than Hurricane Sandy may have been the swirling miscommunications and mania surrounding the L train shutdown, an aftermath New Yorkers are still reeling from in the wake of that historic storm. It was an immensely confusing period: When would the train shut down? Exactly what stops would be impacted? For how long would the closure last? And, most importantly, how are people to cross the East River into Manhattan or travel east to west in Brooklyn?
With stunning lucidity, filmmaker Emmett Adler captures the craze and political upheaval of this public transportation nightmare, chronicling it in his new documentary The End of the Line, which is now streaming online, through November 28, via the DOC NYC website. It also played at Cinépolis Chelsea and is aiming to make the festival circuit as well. Here, Adler discusses the process of building this doc, what he believes the future of the L train holds, and how its story is one of many in the greater mosaic of transportation woes plaguing our country.
Greenpointers: It’s been quite a journey with this film — we remember you at a Greenpointers market three years ago, now, was it? And now you were just at the Cinépolis Chelsea premiering the doc. How does it feel?
Emmett Adler: It was the Valentine’s Market in February 2020, which feels like three years ago now! This project has been in the works since November 2016 though and began as an effort to document the impacts that the L train shutdown would have on communities in North Brooklyn. I was living off of the Montrose stop when they announced that the shutdown was coming and it was an unthinkable situation. When the L train shutdown was called off in 2019 by former Governor Cuomo, we almost thought that all of our work had been for nothing and that we no longer had a film. But it ended up as an incredible plot twist. So yeah, to have it premiere after all of that feels amazing.
What were some of the unique challenges in creating this documentary? Was there footage that was difficult to capture or logistical hoops that had to be jumped through?
We honestly didn’t know much about how the MTA worked when we began so we had to learn a lot on the job and do a lot of research. Also, we finished production during the pandemic summer of 2020, which forced us to shoot interviews outside and to conduct them remotely in some cases. Shooting interviews outdoors in Manhattan is really challenging because of the noise and activity. On top of that, I found out that my wife was pregnant so I had to be really careful but I was so invested in the project, I did what I had to do. (I hope my son doesn’t read this one day and get mad at me.)
The process of constructing a doc is an illuminating one — are there any particular facts or details you learned along the way that you feel have had the greatest impact on yourself and the film?
Yes, central in our narrative is the conflict that arose between former Governor Cuomo and former MTA President Andy Byford. We got an exclusive post-mortem interview with Byford and he mentioned details that were surprising and revealing. Additionally, we interviewed MTA leaders who were there when over 130 MTA employees lost their lives to COVID-19. Speaking with those leaders about that while emotions were still fresh had a lasting impact on me and I think it does on anyone who watches the film.
For those familiar with the L train crisis but perhaps not the greater infrastructure issues of public transportation in this country (which your film dives into), what do you hope they walk away with after seeing your doc?
I hope they walk away with a better understanding of how the MTA works and most importantly who is responsible for it. Things have fallen apart because of a lack of accountability. An educated electorate is key and this is a microcosm of what goes on nationally.
Is there a place audiences can go to stream the doc or see it in person?
November 28 is the last date that it can be streamed online via the DOC NYC website (www.docnyc.net/film/end-of-the-line/). We are submitting to more festivals and hopefully they will make the film available online as well or folks will be able to see it in-person then. In the future we also hope to bring the film to local theaters and to streaming audiences worldwide. But the festival run comes first.
What do you think the future of the L train holds?
I think they should build another tunnel and new tracks right next to the old ones and double throughput… but that’s unlikely to happen in our lifetimes. The L train will always be the lifeblood and the bane of North Brooklyn’s existence.
Anything else you want to add?
Follow us at @endoflinedoc on Twitter, Instagram, and/or Facebook for updates on where the film will be showing next!