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Ernest Hemingway Biopic First Hollywood Film Shot in Cuba Since 1959

Bob Yari's 'Papa' tells the story of novelist's life in Havana and friendship with journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc

Giovanni Ribisi as Denne Bart Petitclerc in 'Papa'
AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa
May 8, 2014 11:10 AM ET

An upcoming biopic about Ernest Hemingway's time in Havana just wrapped up production on location in Cuba, making it the first Hollywood film to shoot in the country since the 1959 revolution, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

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Papa tells the story of journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc's friendship with Hemingway, and is based on an autobiographical script by Petitclerc. The film was directed by Bob Yari, and stars Giovanni Ribisi as a young Petitclerc and Adrian Sparks as Hemingway.

Yari received a special license from the United States Treasury Department that exempted Papa from most restrictions set forth in the decades-old embargo of Cuba, though a cap was placed on how much producers could spend. Such costs were kept down, however, by the ready availability of things like classic cars, while the production also received help from the Cuban film institute, ICAIC, in securing locations, period costumes and local actors.

"It was an absolute passion to actually make it in Cuba where everything that is in the script happened, where the finca [farm] is where [Hemingway] lived, where his boat was, all the spots from the Morro castle to Cojimar where he fished," Yari told Hollywood Reporter. "It's all here, so trying to duplicate it somewhere else was not very appealing."

Along with filming inside Hemingway's former estate, Finca Vigia, which has long been closed to the public, Papa was allowed to shoot in famous Havana locations like the former Government Palace — which is now a museum honoring Fidel Castro's revolution — and the Grand Theater, which is currently closed for restoration.

"To be playing a section of the film where he's struggling with writer's block, I'm standing on exactly the square foot of ground that he stood on, with his typewriter in front of me, playing the scene," Sparks, who's played Hemingway on stage since 2005, said of filming in Cuba. "It wasn't acting, it was channeling. It was just allowing him to come through."

The film did run into several bumps in Cuba, though, including a lack of Internet service, which forced a classic Hollywood practice of slipping daily schedules under hotel room doors; as well as a delay when cast members' names were left off a list required to shoot on a boat in open water where security is high.

Protecting Hemingway's legacy has been one of the few things America and Cuba have worked closely on over the years, and that mutual adoration is perhaps why it was possible for Papa to be filmed on location. "Hemingway was probably the most prominent American to make Cuba his home, and I think the people of Cuba to this day cherish him and love him," Yari said. "And hopefully this film will become an addition to that component of bridging this gap between two cultures and two peoples that have drifted apart."

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