It seems the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico may finally be losing their privileged status as Hollywood’s go-to Cuba stand-ins, because the first American feature-length fiction film shot in Cuba since 1959 now officially has a trailer and a release date. Papa: Hemingway in Cuba tells the true story of a young reporter at the Miami Herald who sent a fortuitous fan letter to Ernest Hemingway, which inspired the legendary writer to invite his fawning young disciple on a fishing trip to Cuba. Once in La Perla del Caribe, the two develop a complex father-son dynamic that is thrown for a loop with the arrival of Fidel’s ragtag revolutionaries in Cuba’s capital city.
The screenplay was written by one Denne Bart Petitclerc, who is actually the real-life counterpart of Papa’s semi-fictional reporter, Ed Lynch, played here by Giovani Ribisi. As the film’s synopsis suggests, Petitclerc found himself fishing with a charismatic but mentally unstable Hemingway after expressing his deep admiration for the writer, and the two eventually developed a father-son dynamic stemming from Petitclerc’s own traumatic experience with paternal abandonment. It’s not entirely clear how true-to-life the coincidence of Fidel’s revolutionary triumph with Petitclerc’s time in Havana actually is, but it certainly makes for great storytelling.
The screenplay was finished and in preproduction just before Petitclerc’s death in 2006 at the age of 76, but it seems the setbacks allowed the production team to strike while the iron was hot and pave the way for a potential Hollywood production invasion in Cuba. Although, it’s interesting to note that the film’s director did pay a rather back-handed compliment to Cuban film crews, praising their passion before essentially calling them lazy. Bob Yari told Entertainment Weekly, “Cuba has very little film infrastructure. A passionate crew base, but one that has been handicapped by knowing no reward for hard work. Everything can get done tomorrow! The beauty of the location, being able to film the real locations Hemingway frequented (including his home which is now a museum), and the wonderful Cuban people all made it worthwhile.” Be that as it may, the trailer shows us some absolutely stunning period images of the Havana cityscape that couldn’t ever be replicated on the streets of San Juan or Santo Domingo.
From el malecón to La Rampa, and even Hemingway’s actual house on the outskirts of Havana, Papa: Hemingway in Cuba is irrefutable evidence of the power of location shooting. Perhaps more importantly, it’s an intimate and first-hand portrait of one of the America’s greatest writers, and one of the strongest cultural links uniting the peoples of Cuba and the U.S. of A.
Papa: Hemingway in Cuba is slated to open in theaters on April 29, 2016.