Runtime: 1 hr 29 min 30 sec
Director: Shane Eason
Every year, hoards of quirky middle-aged men, donning full white beards, sportsmen garb, and Spanish red berets descend into the humidity of Key West, Florida for the Ernest “Papa” Hemingway Look-Alike Contest, a staple of the annual Hemingway Days Festival. The contest, which began in 1981, celebrates Hemingway’s tenure in Key West and runs concurrent with his birthday on July 21st. The competition is held at the historic Sloppy Joe’s Bar on Duval Street and attracts close to 150 enthusiastic participants, along with their supportive families and thousands of outrageous, boisterous fans.
In 2011, for the first time since it’s inception, the final stage of voting in the Look-Alike contest resulted in a tie between two long-time contenders Matt Gineo and Denis Golden. Rather than welcoming two newly appointed Papas into the Look-Alike Society, the judges deliberated and voted in a tiebreaker, awarding Gineo the 2011 Papa title and lifetime membership into the exclusive Society.
While Gineo basked in the glory of worldwide recognition and became something of a minor celebrity in his hometown of Jensen Beach, Florida, Golden returned home to Rockport, Massachusetts resolved to return the following year full of his usual charismatic energy and spirit. A few months later, Golden suffered a stroke, leaving him unable to walk and rendering him completely blind for several months. Through rehabilitation and the help of a few true friends, he worked toward recovery and prepared for another memorable contest performance in the next competition.
Since Golden lost the previous year in the closest vote to date, the other contestants (Wannabes) consider him to be the odds-on favorite to win. Some Papas and Wannabes see him as a symbol of inspiration and determination; while others are jealous of the attention he receives and consider him to be a threat to their chances of winning the coveted Look-Alike title.
PAPA, a documentary feature, began filming in the spring of 2011, and features a number of participating “Papas” (the previous winners and now judges) and “Wannabes” (the desperate contestants) over the course of two years. The film explores concepts of celebrity and the importance of history, while creating a portrait of the eccentric, yet proud Conch Republic. It provides a curious glimpse into the private lives of ordinary men aspiring to be recognized as the iconic, yet troubled American writer.
Participants include: Papa Matt Gineo, the loose-tongued 2011 Hemingway Look-Alike Contest winner and contest judge; Denis Golden, the 2011 runner-up and the perennial fan favorite; Jim Green, the 12-year contestant that holds a bitter grudge against Golden and is jealous of his popularity; Bob Orlin, an obsessive Hemingway enthusiast and spiteful 20-year contestant; Floyd Grant McKenna, a determined hard-nosed ex cop and 4th year contestant; Charlie Boice, a good-time-Charlie (no pun intended) that is always enjoying himself no matter what is happening; Charlie Moss, a 1st year entrant and therefore labeled “virgin” by his peers; Papa Fred Johnson, the winner of the 1986 Look-Alike Contest, contest organizer and judge.