Ernest Hemingway and his family seldom threw anything away, which is a good thing — especially when noted filmmaker Ken Burns decided to make a three-part-series on the iconic writer for PBS. The film, which premieres April 5 on PBS stations and runs two hours for three nights, will tell the story of one of America’s most noted and enigmatic writers of the 20th century.
Burns and his cadre of researchers drew heavily on the archives of Pennsylvania State University, the Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston and the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University for archival photographs, letters, manuscripts and family scrapbooks.
Michael Federspiel, former CMU history professor and author of the acclaimed book “Picturing Hemingway’s Michigan” also spent time with the film’s co-producer Lynn Novick showing her Hemingway haunts at Walloon Lake, Horton Bay, Windemere (the family cottage) and in the Petoskey area, where Hemingway spent his first 18 summers and then spent additional time there recovering from his injuries in World War I.
Federspiel said Florentine Films, which is releasing the film, contacted him early on in the development process with the idea of using his book as the starting point for Hemingway’s time in Michigan.
“They were interested in the sources of the photography in the book,” he said. Federspiel said the Clarke Library has been aggressive in collecting Hemingway material and have family scrapbooks from his sisters Ursula and Madelaine, family letters and a recently acquired manuscript of “The Woppian Way,” which Hemingway wrote in Petoskey during his recovery.
“Ironically, because they got so many great images from the Clarke, they didn’t need to shoot footage of scenes in Michigan,” Federspiel said.
“While Lyn was in Michigan, I asked if they would consider doing a premier here, and I left it at that,” he said.
Because of COVID, that won’t be happening, but Novick agreed to do a live virtual program in conjunction with WCMU Public Media at 6 p.m. on March 31 and will include conversations with Federspiel, Novick and producer Sarah Botstein and Frank Boles, Clarke Historical Library president. In addition, an exclusive advanced premier of “Hemingway” will be shown.
Although not directly tied to the new documentary, several northern Michigan communities are sponsoring a series of events and community activities as an ersatz “homecoming.” One of the first Hemingway activities will be Walloon Lake’s hosting of a regional read of “The Nick Adams Stories,” which thematically cover some of Hemingway’s early experiences in the area. The reading begins April 1 and runs through mid-May. During Labor Day Weekend, downtown Walloon Lake will focus on historical installations in the area recognizing significant village history. Local restaurants will feature Hemingway-themed foods and beverages. Anyone up for one of Hemingway’s camping meals?
The Hemingway family built a cottage on Walloon Lake the same year Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899.
The new documentary will “star” Jeff Daniels, who will do most of the voiceover featuring the author.
Hemingway’s four wives will be played by Meryl Streep, Keri Russell, Mary-Louise Parker and Patricia Clarkston.
Federspiel said he is anxious to see if the film mines any new topics about the life of one of the world’s most famous authors.
“I have heard that the documentary will explore the possibility that Hemingway suffered from traumatic brain injury, which may have led to him taking his own life rather than attributing it to alcoholism,” he said.
Federspiel said in addition to boxing, Hemingway was involved in a traumatic airplane crash and several auto accidents.
He also said that he believes the documentary will delve into the more challenging topic of Hemingway’s gender fluidity in both his writing and personal life.
Hemingway’s body of work encompasses 10 novels, including “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “The Sun Also Rises,” “A Farewell to Arms” and “The Old Man and the Sea,” in addition to 20 story collections, including the semi-autobiographical “The Nick Adams Stories.”