MORRILL MEMORIAL LIBRARY

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The-Public-Movie-Ad

The Public

The-Public-Movie-AdIn the 1986 film The Breakfast Club, Andrew Clark and four odd rebels are restricted to the high school library in an all-day Saturday detention. 23-year old actor Emilio Estevez performs the part of clean-cut Andrew, the state wrestling champion. Estevez’ character feels out-of-place in detention; he is the jock in his letter jacket, confined with what he considers as misfits. He begins this long day annoyed that he is punished for a cruel prank that his father made him do.

The day in detention is spent with bad behavior, rude pranks, bitter tears and heartless insults, and, finally, with sincere confessions and friendship. While The Breakfast Club is a story of civil disobedience against what might seem ridiculous and unfair rules, it is, most of all, a lesson about the bonding and relationships that can arise when social barriers are broken down amid tension and emotional honesty.

In his twenties, Emilio Estevez went on to act in other films with his fellow Brat Packers – costars Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald, and others – starred in ten coming-of-age movies beginning with The Outsiders in 1983 and ending with Wisdom in 1986.

Estevez is the son of Martin Sheen and the brother of Charlie Sheen. When he began finding acting success, his father Ramon Estevez took the stage name of Martin Sheen, a name that is a blend of people who had helped him in life.  Young Emilio chose to keep the family name of Estevez partly because he wanted to be recognized on his own merit, without the influence of his father Martin.

Estevez gives credit to his father, however, for gifting him with the talent that runs through his family, and for giving him a movie camera at the age of 11. Father Sheen brought 14-year old Emilio on location of the filming of Apocalypse Now when he was 14.  If Emilio wasn’t born an activist and advocate for social change, his father’s influence and avant-garde upbringing certainly put him on that path.

In high school at Santa Monica High School in California in 1980, Emilio starred in a film he co-wrote about Vietnam veterans, Echoes of an Era. After he had acted in, wrote, and/or directed 26 films before 1999, the nearly 40-year old actor decided he wanted to “start making films he wanted to see.” That resolve resulted in only nine films between 1999 and 2010, the year of his last film.

In 2007, 13 years ago, Estevez read an April 2 Los Angeles Times column by the retired Assistant Director of the Salt Lake Public Library, Chip Ward. Written Off was actually excerpted from a blog post by Ward.* Ward sympathetically described the homeless, harmless, poor, and mentally ill who simply are looking for a warm, safe place to welcome them. Ward writes, “Public libraries… are open and tolerant, even inviting and entertaining places for [the homeless and mentally ill] to seek refuge from a world that will not abide their often disheveled and odorous presentation, their odd and sometimes obnoxious behaviors and the awkward challenges they present.” Estevez was intensely moved by the article – both by his own need to expose humanitarian issues that trouble today’s society, but also by the honest prose of a librarian who felt much the same.

Estevez knew the public library well in 2007 – he had spent days a decade before in the Central Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library researching for his film Bobby, based on the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Bobby premiered in 2006 to critical reviews.

Estevez set about writing The Public in 2007, after reading that LA Times article, and then began hanging out again in the library – this time people watching. He wanted to write an important screenplay about the Public – the homeless and mentally ill in our society who find acceptance and comfort in the embrace of the open, tolerant and welcoming rooms of another Public (the library).

It’s no secret that the homeless and mentally ill have nowhere to go during the daytime hours when the shelters are closed. Stores and other off-limits public buildings do not welcome them. But libraries do not discriminate – there is “no first-class cabin within the walls of the library.”  Public libraries across this country are hives of activity for all social classes. Darien, Connecticut, one of the most affluent communities in the United States, boasts that over 95% of its residents have a public library card. Lady Bird Johnson said of the public library, “There is no place in any community so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest.” And interest in a safe and welcoming environment is what has become the de facto shelter of the public library.

Public libraries have also become government and private business access points – Social Security, IRS, healthcare and job applications have moved online where vulnerable populations must go to complete them.

The Public hit theaters on Friday, April 5 after 12 years in the making. I was fortunate enough to see the movie both in July 2018 and again in January 2019 during screenings at the American Library Association conferences with Estevez in attendance. He was interested in learning what librarians felt about the depiction of their profession. The standing ovations said it all. Librarians felt that the business of librarianship was well-represented and that the fragile populations who find safe haven in the library were depicted honestly.

Estevez’ co-star Christian Slater also starred in the film Bobby. Slater says, “One of the things I truly admire about Emilio is… his passion… to take on the real issues and raise awareness.” The lessons Andrew Clark learned in the high school library were not lost on Emilio Estevez. In The Public, he is again amongst the rebels he must bond with to move beyond society’s social barriers.

The Public will be screened at the Dedham Community Theatre this month. The library will screen the film once the video becomes available and will have copies to borrow.

Chip Ward’s entire blog post can be found in How the Public Library Became Heartbreak Hotel at TomDispatch.com, April 2010.

Charlotte Canelli is the Director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the April 11, 2019 issue of the Norwood Transcript.

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