Cuban Soul: David Soul and Ernest Hemingway
David Soul is in a tight spot. The restoration of Ernest Hemingway’s 1955 Chrysler New Yorker has taken him on an unexpected journey from the jungles of Cuba to the steps of the U.S. Congress, where he could face heavy fines and possible imprisonment for violations of the U.S. embargo of Cuba.
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A darkly comic film, Cuban Soul follows the intrepid odyssey of David Soul as he sets out to restore Ernest Hemingway’s long lost, and recently unearthed, derelict 1955 Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe convertible. While providing insight into present day Cuba and her people, Hemingway’s love of the island and their love for him, David’s journey also reveals an impossible Cuban bureaucracy set against an archaic and failed U.S. policy towards Cuba.
It all begins with a simple request for help to source automobile parts, unavailable in Cuba, but needed to restore the Chrysler. Little does David Soul know then that, by agreeing to assist, he will be drawn into a legal minefield that could ultimately lead all the way to the steps of the U.S. Congress and potentially heavy fines and a jail cell.
Facing the formidable Cuban bureaucracy on the one hand and, on the other, the hard liners enforcing the ongoing, draconian U.S. embargo of Cuba, David is determined to fulfill his promise — and prepared also to challenge the status quo in order to shine a light on the farcical nature of the relationship between these closest of neighbours.
Three years into the restoration and with David facing almost certain failure, could President Obama’s recent bold steps to restore diplomatic relations between the two nations provide an unexpected twist to the tale?
Hemingway has been David Soul’s literary hero since he was 15 and read Old Man and The Sea. As a result, Cuba became his dream destination. Sadly, due to the U.S. government’s embargo of Cuba, David, a U.S. citizen, was forbidden to travel to Cuba and feared that his dream would remain just that… a dream. That is… until he moved to England and gained British citizenship.
With his newly won British passport, in 2005, he was finally able to realise his dream of travel to Cuba… or so he thought. He soon became a friend of the Hemingway Museum, formerly Hemingway’s home, and in 2012 was asked by the directors to help source original car parts needed to restore Hemingway’s recently discovered yet derelict ’55 Chrysler New Yorker convertible as a museum piece. Of course he said yes and that is where our story begins.
Little by little and with the help of so many in both the U.S. and the U.K., David, despite legal setbacks and bureaucratic roadblocks, realises the restoration, under crude if ingenious solutions in Cuba. The restoration of Hemingway’s car provides a metaphor for Cuba’s dysfunctional relationship with the U.S., for the hardships of life in Cuba, as well as the enormous potential of her people should the embargo finally be lifted.
The documentary follows David’s journey into the increasingly and unexpectedly challenging and dramatic unknown. It starts with naïve excitement at being able to combine his two childhood passions: Hemingway and Cuba. The team comes together on a shared mission, and the documentary crew is following every twist and turn as it evolves into something far beyond expectation.
David was aware of the embargo of Cuba, but thought his U.K. citizenship and residency made sending the parts via the U.K. quite legal. It was not, according to US law… as we shall see. What David also hadn’t expected was the Cuban bureaucracy — a legacy of a sclerotic five-decade-old communist system — that would prove to be a frustrating and testing ordeal, putting up obstacles at every turn.
To David, “yes” means “yes”! The chance to do the right thing and show what he stands for… standing by his word to the Hemingway Museum, an institution which, despite many disappointments in the past, continues to survive to preserve the legacy of Ernest Hemingway. This is what is driving David to fulfill his promise…. even as he learns that the good work he is doing to rebuild an American icon’s automobile is or was recently, counter to U.S. law. Still the U.S. Presidential election of 2016, depending on who wins, may turn the story around. We shall see.
“Many challenges still lie ahead, but if we can raise the investment necessary to complete this film, we will not only be able to celebrate the restoration of Hemingway’s classic automobile for display at the museum, but we can make a genuine contribution toward opening the door to free travel and foreign investment. One last personal note: I think this documentary film, Cuban Soul, is a small price to pay to honour the legacy of an icon — a truly great writer for all the ages, Ernest Hemingway.” —David Soul
Appeal: The Cuban Soul team is looking for additional funding to complete the film. Should anyone be interested in more information (including a full investment proposal), please be in touch with Laura through this website or Ces Terranova at Red Earth Studio.
As you may or may not know, Ernest Hemingway, one of America’s most illustrious authors, is revered in Cuba. He lived there for 22 years and wrote some of his most famous novels there (Nobel prize winner The Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Islands in the Stream, among others). He is required reading in the Cuban schools (if and when the schools can get just a hold of the books).Finca Vigia, is kept pretty much as it was when he left in 1960 and is now a museum hosting tens of thousands of international visitors a year even as it’s listed on the World Monuments Fund‘s biennial list of the “100 most endangered sites.” His famous boat, the Pilar, is on the property and, just recently, his last automobile, the ’55 Chrysler, has finally come into the hands of the museum. It is a wreck.
So enter David Soul. I am a Yank and an enormous Hemingway fan living in London. Since acquiring my British passport in 2004, I have visited Cuba a number of times and have befriended the directors of the Hemingway Museum. As a result, they asked me, as Hemingway’s car had finally come to them, would I help to locate the parts necessary to restore the car to its original condition? As magical as the Cubans are at keeping classic American cars on the road, this car needed a bit more — like original parts.
So the point is, I said “Yes.”
Knowing nothing about the restoration of automobiles, much less a classic, I contacted Danny Hopkins, editor of Britain’s number one classic car magazine, Practical Classics, for some direction. Danny, a huge fan of Hemingway, immediately took up the challenge and connected me with a number of suppliers of vintage Chrysler parts. All things considered, including dealing with continuing issues raised by the U.S. embargo of Cuba, as well as pushing the project through the Cuban bureaucracy itself, our automotive artists and master builders — the panel beaters and mechanics — are determined to complete the restoration.
As am I.
Of the many mysteries swirling around Cuba, there’s one that has captured the imagination of cubaphiles, auto- enthusiasts, and dreamers: “What happened to Ernest Hemingway’s car?”
Exactly fifty years after the Nobel-prize-winning author departed Cuba — his home for 22 years — his long-lost 1955 Chrysler New Yorker convertible has finally been found, derelict, and near to ruin.
Cuba’s vast repository of classic American automobiles is synonymous with the surreal and sensual nation, and Hemingway’s much-sought-after vehicle is potentially the most valuable and important of them all.
Guided by acting and singing legend David Soul, we plan to reveal the mystery of what happened to this renowned car after Hemingway’s departure, and to follow its restoration by Cuba’s underfunded yet resourceful and expert repairmen struggling against odds we can barely imagine.
The hour-long documentary will follow the process of sourcing the replacement parts, shipping them to Cuba and, most importantly, restoring the car.
The story of the car’s restoration will also be the narrative around which we build a fascinating insight into contemporary Cuba — an irresistible yet much-misunderstood Communist island of eccentricity, eroticism, and enigma, in which Hemingway is considered a national treasure and baseball is the national sport… serving alongside the beloved Detroit classics — from creaky Cadillac taxis to Chevrolet Impalas with fins sharp enough to draw blood — as ambassadors of an abiding affection that still binds the two nations together.
This all-Cuban restoration of the vehicle, and David’s unique access, guarantee a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to document something unique.
On Location Photo Gallery
For More Information
Cuban Soul Slideshow by Christopher P. Baker
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