Last week Madison’s Central Library screened The Public, a film about an act of civil disobedience led by homeless library patrons in the bitter cold of Cincinnati, written and directed by Emilio Estevez.
“We are one of 11 libraries across the country, so it is an honor to screen this film today,” librarian Sean Ottosen said.
Patrons of Madison Public Library entered the downtown facility around 5:30 p.m. for a 6:00 screening of an independent film set to release in theatres on April 5. The film features Estevez (The Breakfast Club) alongside actors Alec Baldwin (30 Rock), Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black), Gabrielle Union (Being Mary Jane), Michael K. Williams (The Wire) and others. Following the event, attendees remained seated to listen to a discussion with “The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness” author Ryan Dowd and NBCUniversal Senior Brand Manager Mark Chaput moderated by Capital Times Features and Social Media Editor Rob Thomas.
“I do hope this film serves as a conversation starter that starts tonight and continues tomorrow and continues the next day and the next day and the next day,” Ottosen said.
Ottosen said that homeless residents of the city of Madison are often the most loyal patrons of the library. Dowd said this film explores how society perceives the role of public libraries, which he said are one of the last few places people from all socioeconomic classes interact with one another.
Chaput, Dowd and Estevez have visited libraries, public facilities and film festivals across the nation to get the word out about the film. Unfortunately, Estevez, who was supposed to attend the Madison event, could not because of illness.
“The film doesn’t seek to answer any question or make any recommendations. I think Emilio just wants to start a dialogue,” Chaput said.
Chaput and Dowd both said that Estevez wanted to attend the screening and personally recommended showing the film in Madison when the team began planning their tour. Chaput said they selected cities, especially in the Midwest, in which the film would resonate among audiences. Dowd said the issue of homeless residents enduring harsh conditions, especially during a polar vortex, have become more relevant in recent times, but Estevez began working on the film about 12 years ago.
“What this movie does well is that it captures the full spectrum of homelessness,” Dowd said.
He explained Hollywood films often portray homeless characters as noble persons enduring poverty or as unruly or outside of the main purview of society; however, homeless people can experience both sadness and happiness. Dowd said it was important to portray homeless people dealing with mental health and their humanity as well.
When asked about the depiction of predominantly Black men in the film, Dowd, who runs the second largest shelter in Illinois just outside Chicago, said homelessness overwhelmingly affects minorities and men often face the harsh conditions of the cold due lack of shelter space. The film explores the relationship of homeless patrons and librarians.
“Emilio said he wanted a movie that was kind. He said the world needed a movie that was kind,” Dowd said.
He said the film is both informative and entertaining. Viewers will both lose faith and gain faith in humanity within the two hours and two minutes of the film.