Boston Film Festival revels in a first

A scene from the film “No Greater Love.”
Boston Film Festival
A scene from the film “No Greater Love.”

Even “The Godfather II” didn’t get to shoot its famous Havana scenes in Cuba. The Dominican Republic and other locations had to suffice.

Times have changed. “Papa,” which opens the 31st annual Boston Film Festival on Sept. 17, is reportedly the first Hollywood dramatic feature film allowed to shoot in Cuba since the 1959 revolution and subsequent US embargo.

“Papa” stars Giovanni Ribisi as Ed Myers, a character based on the real-life Miami Herald reporter Denne Bart Petitclerc, who wrote the script. Petitclerc, who died in 2006, also wrote the screenplay for “Islands in the Stream” (1977), based on Ernest Hemingway’s novel. “Papa” is about the friendship between the reporter and Hemingway (Adrian Sparks), who lived in Cuba from 1939 to 1960 and wrote some of his best-known works there, including his Pulitzer Prize-winner, “The Old Man and the Sea.” Myers visits Hemingway and his fourth wife, Mary (Joely Richardson), also a journalist, at their Cuba estate in the late ’50s as the Fidel Castro-led revolution is brewing. At Hemingway’s urging, Myers files firsthand reports of the tumultuous events redefining life on the island.


Director Bob Yari and his crew got unprecedented permission to shoot inside Hemingway’s former estate, Finca Vigia, and at some of Havana’s most iconic sites, including the former Government Palace, which was long ago turned into a museum commemorating Castro’s revolution. The Grand Theater, closed for restoration, was converted into the bar of one of Hemingway’s favorite spots, the Ambos Mundos Hotel. It’s here that, in the film, notorious mobster Santo Trafficante (James Remar) tips off Myers that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover is spying on Hemingway.

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The festival, which runs through Sept. 21 with screenings at the Revere Hotel and other locations not yet announced, also presents the world premiere of the documentary “No Greater Love” (Sept. 19). The film examines the brutality of combat and post-traumatic stress disorder through the story of an Army chaplain, Justin Roberts, who fought with his unit in some of the most horrific battles in Afghanistan and emerged a passionate advocate for soldiers, himself included, who are battling PTSD. Roberts explains that military suicide now claims the lives of more US soldiers than combat. With gripping footage, the film is an immersive look at combat deployment as well as a compelling chronicle of the transition from battlefield to home.

Two fiction features focus on the crime world and its casualties. Writer-director Tim McCann’s “The Aftermath” (Sept. 18) stars Sam Trammell (“True Blood”) as a struggling addict whose need to retrieve a stolen piece of jewelry brings him into contact with a dangerous underground criminal ring in his small Southern town.

Another world premiere feature is “Evan’s Crime” (Sept. 19), directed by Sandy Tung, about a young man, Evan White (Douglas Smith), who is unjustly accused of selling marijuana and cocaine and must contend with an ambitious prosecutor eager to mete out severe punishment.

Local audiences won’t want to miss “We the People: The Market Basket Effect” (Sept. 20), a stirring account of the recent epic showdown between the Demoulas family, the shareholders in its supermarket empire, and thousands of employees, aided by community supporters, who spurred a grassroots boycott for six weeks last year. Directed by Tommy Reid and narrated by Lowell native Michael Chiklis (“American Horror Story” and “The Shield”), the documentary traces the rise of the Demoulas family, who first established Market Basket as a single store before expanding the chain across Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The film depicts the protests from loyal employees and customers that erupted when CEO Arthur T. Demoulas was forced out as part of a long-simmering family feud.

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Loren King can be reached at