“The Public” DVD Review

Public libraries give the homeless population a place to be warm, dry, and drop their defenses temporarily. Inside, they are welcome to read newspapers, books, or bulletin board messages, research on computers, and sit around with others or isolate themselves in corners. During the cold and rainy seasons, they line up outside before the building opens, and are reluctant to leave at closing time.

This is the premise for the message of this film. It is set in the downtown branch of the Cincinnati Public Library during the winter. The library director knows some of these daily patrons by their first names and greets them as they come in and as he encounters them in the restroom. Subplots also are introduced. There is a mayoral election ahead, and a brash member of the district attorney’s office is challenging a long-time incumbent mayor. The library director is on the verge of establishing a more personal relationship with one of the women who lives in his apartment building. The son of one of the negotiators on the crisis team in the Cincinnati Police department has been missing for some time, and he asks for time off to look for him. The crisis comes when one of the homeless men dies of exposure just outside the library, and another favorite of many of them goes missing the same night. When closing time comes again, one of the most expressive of the group urges them to stage what in the 1960s was called a “sit in.” The director is placed in a tough spot; he knows that the current number of city shelters is not sufficient to cope with the number of people in need, and does not want to lose any more individuals to the brutally cold weather. They end up barricading one of the doors, and the director and one of his staff members become part of the group. The rest of the film follows the personalities and views of various members of the group, as well as the brash member of the DA office, the negotiator, a member of the library security staff, the news crew, the current mayor and his supporters, and the tentative girlfriend.

This is a thought-provoking film about a problem faced by many cities, towns, and individuals. Please consider checking it out from the Bellevue University Library to come to your own conclusions. It is found in the media section (DVD PN1995.9.M45 P835 2019) and may be checked out for one week.

Originally posted in the Freeman/Lozier Library’s quarterly newsletter, More Than BooksV. 23 No. 1, Winter 2019

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