Last winter, the public library in downtown Cincinnati was all abuzz. That’s where Emilio Estevez spent many over-night hours—during the filming of “The Public.” A small ensemble cast joined Estevez, as well as many library employees—my coworkers. This public library is where I spend many days—in my job as a library page.
And last Thursday evening, I attended a private showing of this movie. It released January 31, 2018 at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in California. It has yet to be found in box-office theaters.
Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, who stars as a librarian, Mr. Stuart Goodson, it is loosely based on a true story and brings a comic relief with its true-to-life dramatization of the life of homeless folks and their daily reprieve in urban public libraries.
Emilio Estevez wrote its script based off a piece in the LA Times from April 1, 2007. That piece was aptly titled, “Written Off: A librarian’s days among the chronically homeless,” by Chip Ward, a librarian, and at the time of printing, recent past assistant library director of the Salt Lake City Public Library.
“The Public” is about more than just the plight of homelessness. It is about the role of librarians and other library workers who welcome all patrons into the library. It is about an awareness of this social issue and how two librarians (one played by Jena Malone and the other played by Estevez as Mr. Goodson) reacts. The story takes place overnight as the library is turned into a de facto shelter on an especially cold night in Cincinnati. Actor Alec Baldwin helps bring the movie to its climax, in his role as a crisis negotiator.
The personable and even at times, likeable characters can pull you in, but what is most fascinating to watch is the tension that builds when these characters are faced with their dilemma—leave the library when it closes for the night—at the risk of succumbing to freezing weather—or demand help from society.
These likeable characters, though, were almost stereotyped. The homeless folks who turned the library into a de facto shelter were entirely men. Where were the homeless women and families? Then again, families tend to be let into shelters before men are, provided there is room for them. And, as this film portrayed, many homeless men are mentally ill, incapable of changing their way of life.
I could relate to the frustration felt by these homeless men, even though I am not mentally ill. When the Red Cross helped me following an apartment building fire, their help was limited. When the recession hit hard, I was affected, unable to secure gainful employment, even with a college degree. When homeless back in the 1990s, social service agencies seemed tough to navigate.
I could also relate to our librarian in this film, Mr. Goodson. During the unfolding of this story-line, we come to learn more about this character—his history of personal problems and his corrective action to make good of his life, even by becoming a public servant despite his brushes with the law.
My bold truth, centering around my years of homelessness, brushes with the law, and other equally wrought problems are shared in my memoir, coming soon. Like Mr. Goodson, I took corrective action and like him, I too am today a public servant. While the character of Mr. Goodson is fiction, it felt real to me. It is much like my real story.
The ending to this film was a voice-over, saying, “It takes a miracle.” I say it takes action. Our country needs to talk about these topics, and if the push to get us there takes Emilio Estevez’s movie, so be it. This well-directed film about a topic not well-talked about in our day-to-day activities is a must see for all of us.
LA Times, April 1, 2007. “Written off: A librarian’s days among the chronically homeless” by Chip Ward. http://articles.latimes.com/2007/apr/01/opinion/op-ward1
Trailer for “The Public” (Click image, below).
For a glimpse of my working day as a library page: (Click image).
In your day-to-day activities, are you affected by those experiencing homelessness? What are your thoughts on bringing this social problem to the forefront?