Ernest Hemingway was a legend in his own time — no more so then when he was Cuba’s most famous fisherman in the late 1950s. In Papa: Hemingway in Cuba, Giovanni Ribisi plays a young reporter whose earnest letter to his literary idol wins him an invite to the great man’s tropical paradise just as Fidel Castro’s leftist guerrillas are sweeping into the cities.
Adrian Sparks stars as Hemingway, who in 1959, turned 60 years old, was eight years removed from publishing The Old Man and the Sea, was on his fourth marriage (his wife is played by Joely Richardson), and was only two years away from suicide. Enter Ribisi’s Ed Lynch, a character based on the late Miami Herald journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc, who befriended Hemingway, went on to adapt Islands in the Stream in the 1977 movie starring George C. Scott, and wrote Papa‘s screenplay before dying in 2006. “It is a privileged view of the real man, one I had not known from the popular iconic depiction,” says director Bob Yari, in an email. “We get to see his humanity, fallibility and struggles with mental illness. All from the view point of a young man enamored with the iconic depiction — who learns a wonderful lesson that changes his life, yet again.”
In the trailer, Ed’s girlfriend (Minka Kelly) sends the fawning note that gets Hemingway’s attention, but Ed arrives in Cuba at a dangerous time — for those naive of the changing political winds on the island and the erratic mood swings of its most famous American. “I’m not sure he knows what he’s getting himself into,” says Richardson’s Mrs. Hemingway, in the exclusive trailer, above.
In 2016, Cuban-American relations are showing signs of a thaw after more than half a century of Cold War suspicion and animosity. Yari and his crew filmed in Cuba in 2014, becoming the first Hollywood full-length production on the island since the revolution. “It was thrilling and unbelievably challenging,” says Yari. “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.”
Papa: Hemingway in Cuba opens in theaters on April 29.