Project Date / In Production
Format / Feature Doc
Acting and singing legend David Soul is in a tight spot. The seemingly simple 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 US congress, where he faces heavy fines and possible imprisonment for violation of the US embargo of Cuba.
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 US policy towards Cuba.
It all begins with a simple request for help to source auto 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 will ultimately lead all the way to the steps of US Congress and potentially, the doors of a jail cell.
Facing the formidable Cuban bureaucracy on the one hand and, on the other, the hard liners enforcing the ongoing, draconian US 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 bold steps to bridge relations between the two nations provide an unexpected twist to the tale?
Hemingway has been David Soul’s literary hero since he was 15 after he read ‘Old Man and The Sea’ and, as a consequence, Cuba became his dream destination. Sadly, because of the U.S. government’s embargo of Cuba, as a U.S. citizen David was forbidden to travel to Cuba and thus feared that his dream would remain a dream. That is… until he moved to England and got British citizenship.
With his newly won British passport he was finally able to realise his dream of travel to Cuba. He soon became a friend of the Hemingway Museum, formerly Hemingway’s home, and in 2012 he 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. He said “Yes, of course!” And that is where our story begins.
David realises the restoration, under unimaginably crude conditions in Cuba, could be used a metaphor for the hardships of life in Cuba, and that the problems that the museum and its hired mechanics face in securing parts for the car could shine a light on Cuba’s dysfunctional relationship with the USA.
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 UK citizenship and residency made sending the parts via the UK quite legal. It was not, according to US law… as we shall see. What David also hadn’t expected was that Cuban bureaucracy—a legacy of a sclerotic five-decade-old communist system—would prove such a frustrating and testing ordeal, putting up obstacles at every turn.
To David “yes” means “yes”! The chance to show who he really is and what he stands for. Doing the right thing, standing by his word to the Hemingway Museum, is driving him to fulfill his promise…. even as he learns that the good work he is doing to rebuild an American icon’s automobile is counter to U.S. law.
The Sub Stories
Cuba: The difficulties also provide a unique perspective on the effects of both the 50-year-old U.S. embargo and a Communist system on Cuba and it’s people. The documentary reveals how resilient Cubans adapt and despite the hardships live a colourful and resourceful life. To see the effects of the embargo through their eyes, specifically mechanics, through their day-to-day difficulties, is a unique take. Castro’s Revolution and conflicts with JFK were five decades ago! They’re the past. This documentary is routed in the present. It’s about now!
Hemingway: What would Hemingway think? He was one of America’s greatest authors, yet lived in Cuba for 22 years, considered himself a “Cuban mongrel,” and set his Nobel prize-winning novel The Old man and the Sea in Cuba.
Could his legacy and a simple car restoration force change in Cuban/US relations? We’re sure he’d love it if it could!