The Public

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

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Get out your library card. “The Public” is a new film that examines a collision between a public library and the public it serves.

When a cold front hits the Midwest, the homeless folk who patronize Cincinnati’s downtown public library refuse to leave at closing time, declaring it a shelter. This non-violent sit-in is led by Jackson (Michael K. Williams), a homeless man who decides to stay over for the night in the warm library. He’s joined in this impromptu Occupy Movement by other street people like Cactus Ray (Bryant Bentley), Smutts (Michael Douglas Hall), and 70 others.

Mr. Anderson (Jeffrey Wright), the head librarian of the Cincinnati Public Library, is not happy with the situation. Librarians Stuart and Myra (Emilio Estevez and Jena Malone) are caught between their duties of checking out books and checking in the patrons who refuse to leave.

Needless to say, this act of civil disobedience escalates to riot level as the cops get involved. Heading up this initiative is Detective Bill Ramstead (Alec Baldwin), a hardnosed crisis negotiator for the Cincinnati Police Department, and Josh Davis (Christian Slater), the city’s ambitious district attorney.

Joining Stuart in his support of the movement is Angela (Taylor Schilling), his flirty neighbor and would-be girlfriend.

Acting as a catalyst are two local reporters (Gabrielle Union and Carly Tamborski), whose unfounded speculation turns the night’s events into a “hostage situation.” Fake news and all that.

Also you’ll encounter Grammy winner Che “Rhymefest” Smith as Big George, Jacob Varga as Security Guard Ernesto, Spencer Garrett as John Harper, and Ki Hong Lee as Chip.

You’ll find “The Public” open for business this week at Tropic Cinema.

Inspired by a 2007 article in the Los Angeles Times, “The Public” depicts “the devolution of the American public library as an institution, in a time when libraries have become de facto homeless shelters, with librarians forced to play the part of social workers.”

Written and directed by Emilio Estevez (Martin Sheen’s more stable son), “The Public” was filmed on location in a real Cincinnati library. Estevez also takes a starring role.
This is the first film he’s directed which doesn’t star either Martin Sheen (“The Way”) or his brother Charley Sheen (“Men At Work”).

For his cast, Emilio Estevez drew on the repertoire company from his past movies. Christian Slater, Jacob Varga, and Spencer Garrett all appeared in Estevez’s film “Bobby.” Estevez and Slater also co-starred in the Western “Young Guns II,” back when they were both younger guns.

Interesting to note, this is the second movie in Emilio Estevez’s career where his character spends most of his time in a library, the first being, “The Breakfast Club.” This new film includes a few homages to that 1985 John Hughes teen classic if you look for them.

Emilio Estevez says, “This movie is about misfits, and outcasts, and marginalized people who don’t get movies made about them. And here they’re empowered. They see themselves as the Davids against the Goliaths.”

It took Emilio Estevez over a decade to put the film together. “Not that I’m saying I was prescient,” he states. “I was patient, if anything, and I think it’s more relevant now than it would’ve been had we made it ten years ago.”

Putting truth to his words, the movie’s release took place at a time when the real Cincinnati Public Library was being taken over by activists who opposed the city selling off one of the library system’s downtown buildings.

As Oscar Wilde once put it, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.”

Email Shirrel: srhoades@aol.com

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