Michael Kenneth Williams, left, and Emilio Estevez appear in “The Public,” which is set in the Cincinnati Public Library. (Courtesy Universal Pictures Content Group)

Emilio Estevez takes on homelessness and librarians in ‘The Public’

“This movie celebrates the misfits and the outcasts and the marginalized — and even librarians!” says Emilio Estevez about “The Public.”

Estevez wrote, directed and stars in the film about what happens when some homeless people who spend their days in the Cincinnati Public Library refuse to leave at closing time when an arctic snap hits, leaving librarian Stuart Goodson (Estevez) faced with a tough decision.

Many films have attempted to address the homeless problem in America, but few are as inspiring and as entertaining “The Public.”

“When filmmakers and studios try to deliver a message, that’s all they do, and they forget the entertainment. They forget the humor,” he says.

“I’ll eat broccoli and kale salad from time to time, but I need a cheesecake also!” (Gluten free, he adds.) “I always intended on making a very entertaining movie, delivering what I thought were some interesting ideas, not solutions.”

With an impressive cast (Alec Baldwin, Christian Slater, Jena Malone, Taylor Schilling, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jeffrey Wright and Gabrielle Union), Estevez shot in the real Cincinnati library; he didn’t have the budget to build a set or even dress a warehouse.

The library was never closed to the public, and little was done to change it. Estevez even incorporated a stuffed polar bear, on loan from the natural history museum, that appeared in the main lobby.

Though Estevez has directed many times in his four-decade career — recent efforts include “The War at Home,” “Bobby” and “The Way” — “The Public” proved a challenge, given its single location and interior settings.

“You want to make sure you’re not redundant, that it’s got flow and energy, and that’s it not a submarine movie, where there’s no relief,” he says. “We went handheld, Steadicam and we kept it moving. When the camera stops, it stops for a reason.”

Estevez fans will remember his other movie set in a library over the course of one day: 1985’s “The Breakfast Club.”

“I was looking at this one like ‘Breakfast Club’ meets ‘Dog Day Afternoon,’ says Estevez. “’Dog Day’ deals with a lot of heavy stuff, but there’s a lot of humor. Those 1970s movies touch and inspire me. Those were the films I kind of leaned into, in terms of the look I wanted,” he says.

“We had to use what the library had,” he continues. “So we watched ‘All the President’s Men,’ and we decided to embrace those awful fluorescent lights.”

Estevez also remained open to accidents and opportunities. One day his dentist asked him what he was working on, and when he responded that he was playing a librarian, the dentist was dismayed.

“He said, ‘No way! Librarians are old ladies with white hair!’ And I was feeling a little self-conscious about that. So I went online and searched for librarians.” What came up was an old, black-and-white industrial film. He showed it to the editor, and it became the film’s opening sequence.

Another problem arose when he was trying to clear the rights to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” but the band wouldn’t grant permission, afraid the song would be ridiculed. Despite Estevez’s “begging,” they refused.

With two weeks before the shoot, Estevez was sitting on a friend’s porch in Cincinnati, listening to a Spotify playlist trying to figure out what to do, when Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” came on. It turned out to be an inspired choice for an inspiring scene.

Above all, Estevez wanted “The Public” to click with the homeless community and with librarians.

He has shown it to members of the American Library Association, and in March, had a “amazing” screening at GLIDE in San Francisco.

“There were a lot of people that had lived the experience,” he says. “They were seeing their stories on the screen, feeling empowered. It was exciting for me to watch their reaction.”

IF YOU GO

The Public

Starring: Emilio Estevez, Taylor Schilling, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jena Malone

Written and directed by: Emilio Estevez

Rated: PG-13

Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes

Movies and TV

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