From producer Ray Bouderau new film “The PUBLIC” shares a profound message accessible to all.
In The PUBLIC, an act of civil disobedience turns into a standoff with police when homeless people in Cincinnati take over the public library to seek shelter from the bitter cold. What begins as an act of civil disobedience becomes a stand-off with police and a rush-to-judgment media constantly speculating about what’s really happening. This David versus Goliath story tackles some of our nation’s most challenging issues, homelessness, and mental illness and sets the drama inside one of the last bastions of democracy-in-action: the public library.
The PUBLIC, produced by Ray Bouderau, written, directed, and starring Emilio Estevez and, and a labor of love for everyone involved. We caught up with Producer Ray Bouderau, and the entire cast of The PUBLIC to see what drew them to the project and their thoughts on how we can affect change in dealing with our countries homeless problem.
Bouderau, even though this movie was 12 years in the making, is grateful to have an opportunity to bring this story to life looking at it almost an act of service “For me, it’s what I owe. I’ve been 14 years sober, since 29 years old. I was lucky. It’s only because my mother and grandmother and the people that cared about me wanted to help me. But I was a drink away from being homeless when I turned 29. I was seriously a drink away from being homeless myself. But I went the other way. So, my couch surfing for a year was just a situation, not a problem. Even though I was a mess, I still had people around that loved me and wanted to help me. I guess you could say I was a mess… but not a hot mess.” Bouderau, with his signature twinkle in his eyes, goes on to say, “That came later”.
Estevez (Stuart Goodson) also knew the story was a conversation, that although started ten years ago, is just as relevant today, if not more. “The movie takes place in a library, and it unfolds on the coldest night of the year where the patrons of the library stage an old fashioned 60’s sit-in. I looked at how law enforcement would react to this, how would the media spin it? How would a politician maybe use and change the narrative for his own political gain? What would that look like?” But over the 12 years, Estevez also experienced intense frustration “So the frustration for me, every time I turned on the TV and opened the newspaper was like ‘I’m going to be accused of being an opportunist’. Even though the script was written on April 1, 2007. That was my greatest fear. But I knew the story was too important not to tell”.
Taylor Schilling (Angela) was drawn to the project because of the strong parallels she saw between the treatment of the incarcerated communities she’s worked closely with and the homeless.“There’s a lot of “othering” and marginalizing of the homeless population. Specifically, in NYC, there’s a lot of normalization of kind of walking by and keeping your head down. What I loved about what Emilio (Estevez) was doing is that he really attempted through this narrative to bridge that gap and cross the chasm of otherness to humanize people. I think the most a profound act of peace. A profoundly peaceful action to try and humanize, and bring us into the same circle, as brothers and sisters.”
But others were drawn to the film on a more personal level.
Che “Rymefest” Smith (Big George) shared that for him, his connection to the film hit very close to home. “You know, my father was homeless for 35 years. when I met my dad for the first time at 38 years old, he wanted to meet at the public library because that was a place that wasn’t the park. It wasn’t a homeless shelter. There was dignity for him there”. Smith goes on to note “I did a documentary called In My Father’s House which caught the eye of Emilio’s (Estevez) mom who told him ‘This guy needs to be in the movie’ so Emilio actually reached out to me via Facebook about coming on board. Smith also drew real-life inspiration for his role, which was his first time acting ever, “My grandfather’s name was Big George, and with my father being homeless I was able to channel that all into my character. I went and stayed in the homeless shelter overnight just to feel what was happening and what I saw was horrible. I did this research because I believe that once you care about who a person is, you know a person.”
Michael K. Williams (Jackson) had a personal connection to the topic allowed him to have greater empathy and understanding of the challenges a loved one defiantly faced. “Let’s just say the irony of having a very close family member was in a homeless situation at the same time I was filming PUBLIC, so it really brought the issue home for me. It hit me in a personal place. They would come to my home and spend time with me, but at a certain time, they would have to leave because if they didn’t make curfew, they would lose their bed for the night. They were living in a shelter. This was a very close family member, that had to go through this process. The situation had to be that way for them in order to get well. So, I got a glimpse into what they must deal with and the community they were living in. And it was hard, it was really hard pill to swallow”.
The cast also shared their thoughts on how to better address the issues facing the homeless population in America and ways to bring about greater change
Schilling points out that we need to also address the systemic issues rooted in poverty. “It starts with mental health care in our country. It starts with the way drug abuse and domestic violence and all sorts of trauma in our society. And access to recovery.” Williams goes on to say, “I also love the way Emilio contextualizes homelessness and he talks about it not being not a condition, but a situation. And to remember that every time we walk past someone to remember that they are two steps away from our situation and they are two steps away from their situation. I think being aware of that shifts the way you view a person on the street and lets you make a personal connection. Really see that person”.
“I’m also a big believer in peaceful protest,” says Bouderau. “Using it to start a conversation and we just keep at it…you know? Because we all have a voice and we are entitled to our opinion. I don’t think there is a right or a wrong… just different shades of perceptions in the way we look at things. But peaceful protest is our God-given right. And need a message and a platform to do it. Case in point, Occupy Wall Street, I don’t think they had a direct enough message…but they got everyone’s attention! But now, let’s talk about segregation and MLK, he had a voice and a platform. It started a conversation, and that conversation led to an amazing change in our society.”
“If you’re not in the conversation” Estevez goes on to say “you need to start one. And if you’re in this conversation use this movie to continue the conversation.” Estevez goes on to note how the film is being used to continue the conversation on a larger scale. “We’ve screened this movie for homeless advocate groups across the country in over 30 libraries across the country. And the reaction, the feedback I’ve got from the people on the ground, the homeless advocates, licensed social workers, and librarians…they given their stamp of approval basically saying ‘thank you for making this movie and we are going to go use it as a tool to help and further their agenda” Estevez proudly states “That lets me know that the twelve years I spent making this movie were not in vein.”
For Smith, allowing people to have agency over themselves can also be a powerful avenue that leads to real change. “I think the key is allowing others to have agency over themselves. I think one of the problems we have is trying do something… to make someone something else.” Smith goes on to say, “I think we have to let people say what they need, and we have to be humble enough to be able to service the need. We can’t just give people money then tell them what to do with it. Allowing people to have agency over themselves. That’s respect. That’s love.”
For Micheal K. Williams stresses that dignity is also part of the solution. “For me, in regard to people that are homeless there’s something I stopped doing. You know, I was that person that would just stuff my leftover change in someone’s cup on my way out of Whole Foods and that would be enough for me. This movie reminded me that these are human beings not just fixtures on the sidewalk that I can offload my extra change on and think I did enough”. Williams goes on to say, “So I look for ways to identifying with them no matter the situation because they are people who happen to live on the street. I started doing things like actually looking people in the eyes, saying hello, like I would do to any other human being. Ask them their name, ask them how their day is going. I made a decision that if I’m going to put money in someone’s cup, I can at least have enough decency to say hello and give them dignity. That can be a powerful thing.”
The PUBLIC premieres nationwide April 5
The NYC premiere of The PUBLIC was held at the New York Public Library in partnership with Covenant House. For more than four decades, Covenant House has helped transform and save the lives of more than a million homeless, runaway and trafficked young people. They offer housing and support services to young people in need – reaching 80,000 boys and girls every year.
A fun after-party followed at Moxy NYC Times Square.
The PUBLIC is directed and written by Emilio Estevez, who also stars in the film with an ensemble cast Alec Baldwin, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Slater, Gabrielle Union, Taylor Schilling, Che “Rhymefest” Smith, Jacob Vargas, and Michael Kenneth Williams.
Photo Credit: Kristina Bumphry/StarPix