When was the last time you visited a library? Oftentimes, we forget what a community staple our local library is, and all that it offers its patrons. In Emilio Estevez’s latest film, The Public, the filmmaker focuses his lens on the lives of librarians.
Opening in select cinemas April 5, the indie film centers on the Cincinnati Public Library, or as it’s endearingly
The idea for The Public first came to Estevez back in 2007 after reading an LA Times article written by librarian Chip Ward about how libraries had become de facto homeless shelters, and librarians
“And then I began to wonder what an old-fashioned 1960s sit-in by library patrons, many of whom were experiencing homelessness or mental health issues, would look like,” says Estevez. “What would happen if they decided to sit in and not leave — simply just refused and said ‘No’? How would law enforcement react? How would the media spin it? How would the local politicians react? And would there be an instance where you’d see a politician spin the situation for their own political gain?”
Estevez started working on the film 12 years ago, “before all the things in this movie were true,” he says. “You can’t turn on the TV or go on the Internet today without hearing about one or 12 of the issues that this movie addresses.”
He adds it was frustrating not being able to make the movie sooner because with “each passing year, the story became more and more relevant — and now I’m looking more and more opportunistic,” he says with a laugh.
The filmmaker wanted to create a work that was both entertaining and thought-provoking. “I didn’t make a socially driven, social conscience piece that was intent on delivering a message and came with an agenda,” says Estevez, who not only stars in The Public as Stuart Goodson but also wrote, produced, and directed the film. “I don’t make movies with agendas. I make movies because I want to tell stories… I make movies about people — almost like folk movies — that have mainstream aspirations.”
The film should certainly resonate with those who work or volunteer at libraries. Miami-Dade County’s library director, Ray Baker, says he plans to share the film with his entire staff.
“For my team and for the people who work here, I hope they see this film as a reminder that we’re here to help everyone,” says Baker. “We need to up our game on how we help people who come in here.”
Baker says the county's Main Library in downtown Miami and the Miami Beach branch have the most homeless people visiting. Asked how the library would handle something like the sit-in in The Public, Baker says the first thing he’d do is find out the why.
“Hopefully there’s a good reason and a true need out there that no one else is providing,” says Baker adding, “At Miami-Dade County, we run into all sorts of situations. I’m sure we would take the best approach possible — I just don’t know what the answer is.”
He explains that although Miami-Dade has never had a situation like the one in Estevez’s film, the libraries are used after hurricanes. “Once we’re back up and running with power after a hurricane,” says Baker, “the library serves as a place where people can come in and get connected to a computer or access the free WiFi, charge their devices, or just take advantage of the air conditioning.”
After Hurricane Irma in 2017, Baker’s libraries were a beacon of hope. “We were able to offer so many people some of the basic amenities that we take for granted, but for many, the library is the only place where people can go.”
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After Estevez’s father, actor Martin Sheen, worked on the 1986 film Samaritan: The Mitch Snyder Story, Sheen became an advocate for the homeless. He brought individuals without a home to his own, offering them food and shelter. Estevez says his father’s kindness toward strangers influenced him.
“I spent 12 years making this movie because I hope it’ll be used as a tool for education… I differ from my father in the sense that although I understood fundamentally what he was doing [back then], I didn’t understand it spiritually until much later — until I started working on this film,” explains Estevez.
“His actions [toward the homeless] and his nonviolent civil disobedience arrests are what really inform the film. [My father’s actions] have sort of shaped the way I see the world, and that’s reflected in the film.”
The Public opens in select theaters Friday, April 5.