Movie goers have seen actor Emilio Estevez talk about injustice in a library before, but at 56, he hasn’t forgotten how to strike the same chord on screen. Gone are his “Brat Pack” days of “St. Elmo’s Fire” and “The Breakfast Club,” and lighter films like “Stakeout” and, lest we forget, “The Mighty Ducks.” The recent iteration of his career as a writer and director has certainly polished his resume. His new film “The Public,” which Estevez, wrote, directed (his seventh) and starred in, is coming to the Key West Film Festival, and so far audiences are raving not only for the entertainment but its message as well. The film is about a nonviolent sit-in by the homeless in the Cincinnati public library when shelters fill up during a brutal cold snap. Estevez plays the librarian who is caught between the homeless and the police outside as they barricade themselves in the building for the night. It’s a feel-good story about people discovering their humanity. It also shines a spotlight on the brutal realities of public libraries in America today.
“I am hopeful this film has legs and will inspire people to help their local libraries. So far the outreach to bring the film places across America has been overwhelming.” – Emilio Estevez on his new Film “The Public.”
“It’s not a critic’s ‘darling’, but it’s rousing audiences and they love it,” said Estevez, who’s spent 12 years developing the film. The movie addresses the unknown role of librarians as community middlemen for the mentally ill and drug-addicted homeless people. “Librarians are on the front lines,” he said. “They know the needs of the community and they deal with more issues than first responders. Every day, librarians face the unfathomable cruelty of homelessness in America. Now, they are vital to helping these people and are woefully underfunded. I am hoping the film inspires people to help their local library.”
Driving from his home in Cincinnati, where his mother was born and where the film was made, to his other home in Los Angeles, Estevez was racing the clock to make it back to California to vote. His sense of public activism has been one of the many family traits, aside from acting, that he got from his father, actor Martin Sheen.
“Dad’s been arrested 68 times for nonviolent protests; he’s stood up for so many injustices. So now I always ask the question of myself, what can I do? ‘More’ is always my answer. I can always do more.” Does Sheen like the movie? Of course he does.
“I love libraries, I get to be anonymous in there,” said Estevez, who has been in the public spotlight since his first major acting hit “Outsiders”(1983). “I sit in there and just observe. It really is a sacred space,” said Estevez, who touts researching his award-winning film “Bobby”(2006) about the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, in the public library. He would wear a hoodie and watch the librarians’ interactions with the people, inspiring many elements of “The Public”.
Having pursued an acting career instead of college, Estevez is remarkably academic and a self-professed bookworm. “I missed out, for better or worse, I guess I have chosen my own curriculum.” He is an avid reader of nonfiction. “I like stir the pot writers who are on the front lines of being truth tellers, like Noam Chomsky.”
It’s easy to describe Estevez as passionate and personable, more of a Midwestern attitude of his adopted home Cincinnati than Hollywood elite. Naturally, he filmed at the Cincinnati Public Library, as it would be implausible for L.A. to have temperatures go below freezing. He’s a road warrior who traverses the country in his car alone, going back and forth between both homes and paying close attention to politics and cultural injustice.
“I don’t take it as a slight when people call me old-fashioned,” said Estevez. Meaning: he isn’t above making a feel-good movie, but he knows there is a balance. He labeled “The Public” a dramedy. Estevez, as well as his family, are all known for their comedic attributes “You can’t beat the audience over the head with a serious issue. We have some great comedy actors in the film, like Alec Baldwin, Taylor Schilling and Christian Slater.”
He admitted, “I was terrified to play it at the American Library Association’s convention last June. But they were 95 percent favorable of the film.” Now back in L.A., Estevez is searching for a distributor. Audiences will always be drawn to a gentler film that lies somewhere between entertainment and truth-telling, with a few laughs. Playing only for third time, after the Toronto Film Festival and the ALA convention, check out “The Public” during the Key West Film festival Nov. 15 (today), at 7:30 p.m. at The San Carlos Institute.