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‘Hemingway & Fuentes’

Cape author to co-write screenplay, serve as executive producer

May 27, 2009

Along Cuba's northern coast, some 10 kilometers east of Havana, is a quaint fishing village frequented by Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway. In fact, the author who's been credited with profoundly altering today's style of prose spent the last decade of his life fishing near that town, Cojimar, with a Cuban boat captain named Gregorio Fuentes.

Fuentes was one of Hemingway's closest friends and confidants, according to the author's niece and Cape Coral resident Hilary Hemingway, and an examination of their relationship will be the subject of a film set to begin shooting this fall.

Actor Andy Garcia's production company, CineSon, agreed to produce the film after Garcia approached Hilary last September about wanting to portray Fuentes in a film about "Papa" Hemingway.

Since being founded in 1999, CineSon has produced a number of documentaries and independent films such as "For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story" and "The Lost City," a story centered around the Marxist take-over of Cuba as seen through the eyes of a nightclub owner named Fico Fellove, portrayed by Garcia in 2005.

For this project, Garcia will play the passionate Fuentes and, according to Hilary, British actor Anthony Hopkins has signed on to portray the aged, silver-bearded Ernest.

"He has always wanted to play Ernest Hemingway and as luck has it, the part is the last 10 years of his life," Hilary said. "It is a perfect part for him and in my estimation he can do no wrong."

Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep read for the role of Hemingway's wife, Mary Welsh, but later passed on the deal. Instead, Annette Bening has demonstrated some interest in the project and agreed to do the part in her place.

While "Hemingway & Fuentes" is based on the life and experiences of the two characters fishing for swordfish off the coast of Cojimar, producers said it's unlikely the film will be shot on location in Cuba. Even with some relaxation of relations between the United States and Cuba under the Obama administration, the film will most likely be shot on location in the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico.

Hilary said there is a city in the Dominican Republic that closely resembles Havana, which was used by both Garcia in the filming of "The Lost City" and for the 1990 Sydney Pollack film "Havana," starring Robert Redford.

"It would be a wonderful and miraculous thing if we could be the first feature film to film in Cuba. Do I think this will happen, no," said Hemingway.

At first, Hilary said she wasn't sure whether Garcia wanted her as a writer, for resource material or to use the documentary she produced on her uncle last year for WGCU entitled, "Hemingway in Cuba."

Not only will she be co-writing the screenplay, but she has also been commissioned as executive producer, which affords her the chance to join the crew and assist with rewrites or make sure progress is headed in the right direction.

Garcia, a Cuban-American and self-described fanatic of Hemingway, said in media reports that he is excited about bringing Fuentes to life on the screen. Fuentes, who died at the age of 104 in 2002, lived a colorful life besides his friendship with Hemingway.

The last 10 years of Hemingway's life are perhaps the most important in understanding his legacy. His life was in shambles after critics tore apart his last book, "Across the River and Into the Trees," and many believed he had used up his artistic abilities and original ideas.

"He went through an awful moment in his life in 1950 when critics beat him up and said he was washed up," said Hilary. "There is that element and his need to go out a winner that drove him to write a very simple and beautiful story called 'The Old Man and the Sea.'"

Some believed that Santiago, the protagonist in "The Old Man And the Sea," was based on Fuentes, but according to Hilary there was an article published in a Cuban newspaper about a fisherman found delirious off the coast. The story was eventually told to Hemingway who turned it into a short story for Esquire magazine. Of course, since Hemingway often pulled fictional characters from one or two real people from his life, it's possible that some of Fuentes' characteristics went into sculpting the character.

This novella was Hemingway's last and most recognized work and even won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. It follows Santiago, a veteran fisherman, who goes in search of marlin after 84 days without a catch. Alone in his skiff, Santiago struggles with a marlin he described as the greatest catch of his life and after killing it with a harpoon, he ties it to the boat and returns to his village.

Unfortunately, on the way home a group of sharks consume most of the marlin and Santiago returns to the beach with nothing in his hands but bone and pieces of eaten flesh. It's likely that Heming-way's vision of sharks eating the marlin was a metaphor for how the critics treated his last book "Across the River," but "The Old Man and the Sea" had put him back on the literary map.

"It was getting back to his roots to writing something he thought about in 1930s," she said.

According to Hilary, Ernest's life during that last decade closely mirrored Santiago's voyage. Throughout his career, Hemingway had a strict regiment of writing early in the morning and spending the remaining day fishing, hunting or participating in other leisurely activities.

In different periods of his life, Hemingway also struggled with bouts of depression, he called "Black Ass," which Hilary explained may have been a result of diabetes.

"In our family, we have Type 2 diabetes, and in 1999 the American Diabetes Association came out with a clinical study that says brain chemistry is changed during a diabetic attack," she said.

Hemingway, who stood 6-foot-2, lost a tremendous amount of weight in the last 10 years of his life, dropping from a solid 240 pounds to 160 when he passed away, she said. On top of his problems with weight and blood sugar, he also received shock treatments to deal with the depression that often surfaced.

In some ways Hilary said the shock treatments were like the sharks in Hemingway's final story.

"They chew away at the mind," she said. "To a writer, losing your ability to recall a memory or mixing your memory like a blender is going to mess up your ability to focus."

After moving back to Ketch-um, Idaho, in 1960, Hemingway committed suicide on July 2 after being released from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. It was problems with depression, the damaging scars of shock treatment and some even claim alcoholism that contributed to his death.

"They never treated his diabetes, they diagnosed it. They treated the symptom of depression," Hilary explained.

Hilary and her husband, Jeff Lindsay, both work as writers of books, film and television. Lindsay created the Showtime original series "Dexter" about a vigilante serial killer who murders other serial killers, and Hilary, who has published science fiction books and historical pieces about her uncle, said she has production deals with Warner Bros., Paramount and 20th Century Fox studios.

Recently she almost had a film option called "How To Be A Hitman," which was set to star "Karate Kid" star Ralph Macchio, but the studio backed out at the last minute.



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