GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Spend an evening basking in the wisdom of seven kings and one queen who sweep halls, clean toilets and pick up trash. The Florida Museum of Natural History will host a free screening of “The Philosopher Kings,” a documentary about wisdom found in unlikely places, from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16.
The feature-length film includes museum custodian Melinda Augustus, who will speak about the filming experience at the screening and answer questions.
“The Philosopher Kings” guides viewers through the campuses of seven American colleges and universities on a search for knowledge from unexpected sources: the schools’ custodians. Producers Patrick Shen and Greg Bennick chose to feature the stories of individuals who are often ignored in their custodial positions to show that wisdom grows at all levels of society.
“Life lessons from ‘ordinary’ people are juxtaposed against a backdrop of some of the country’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning,” said Florida Museum Director Douglas Jones. “We’re honored that Patrick and Greg chose Melinda to help demonstrate that basic truths about purpose, family and love do not always come from books or computers, but from individual values and attitude.”
Augustus is one of eight workers featured in the documentary. The film crew shadowed her working at the Florida Museum for two days in July 2008. As she dusts murals, polishes lab windows and sweeps floors in the museum’s exhibit areas, she reflects on her motivation and work ethic.
“I’m here in this custodian position because I want to be here,” she says in the movie. “I like the environment that I work in. Being here has been a nice learning experience for me.”
Augustus owned and ran a day care business for 17 years before joining the University of Florida and Florida Museum as a custodian in August 2004.
Augustus also shares intimate details about her childhood and the devastating loss of her mother at age 9. While in the hospital to give birth to her 15th child, her mother was given an accidental overdose of anesthesia that sunk her into a coma until her death 11 years later.
Although she was hesitant at first to share her thoughts about her life on film, Augustus quickly realized the experience served as a healing event.
“Our family structure and interactions suffered greatly when my mom was lost to us,” Augustus remembered. “Her death still hurts a lot, but revisiting it with the film crew made me realize I needed to talk about it out loud.”
Other custodians in the film talk about their struggle to provide for their families, the pride they take in their work and their desire to reach higher career goals.
“The Philosopher Kings” debuted in June at the AFI-Discovery Channel Silverdocs Documentary Festival in Washington, D.C. Augustus walked the red carpet with five other cast members and viewed the completed film for the first time. To date, 12 film festivals and 10 higher learning institutions across North America have hosted screenings of the film. It was nominated for best documentary at the AFI/Discovery Channel Film Festival, Calgary International Film Festival and Raindance (London) Film Festival, and won an Emerging Cinematic Vision Award at the 2009 Camden (Maine) International Film Festival and a Special Judges’ Mention at the 2009 Newburyport (Mass.) Film Festival.
“The movie is something I’m proud I had a part in,” Augustus said. “Everyone has something good to say.”
The event is free and open to the public. For more information, call 352-846-2000.
Los Angeles-based Transcendental Media, an independent motion picture company that creates socially conscious feature-length films, produced the film. Visit http://philosopherkingsmovie.com for more information.
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