The granddaughter of iconic author Ernest Hemingway explores her family’s troubled history in the documentary Running From Crazy, which premiered recently at the Sundance Film Festival.
Mariel Hemingway’s documentary examines the suicides and addictions that have blighted her family and given rise to a so-called ‘Hemingway curse’.
Born just months after her illustrious grandfather killed himself in July 1961, Mariel Hemingway explained how the title of her documentary Running From Crazy summed up her efforts to make sure herself and her children were not going to be afflicted by the ‘curse’.
“I have never felt that it was a curse. Rather I should say – I didn’t want it to be a curse, and I spent my life trying to make it not be one. I tried to live a lifestyle that meant I wasn’t going to be passing that on to my children. But indeed there is genetic cause for the suicides, the addictions and the mental illness in my family,” Hemingway told Reuters in London.
Seven members of the Hemingway family have committed suicide, including her older sister Margaux. However, Mariel said that growing up she was unaware of the signs of mental illness that were around her.
“I didn’t know that my family was different from any body else’s. I thought I was just like the Joneses. I assumed that everybody’s family was drinking too much and throwing wine bottles against the wall — I didn’t know that that wasn’t normal,” she said.
Speaking about her own fear of mental illness and overcoming the family ‘curse’, Hemingway believes that individual choice plays a role: “Yes there is a curse. But yes there are choices that a person can make that can change the course of their life. And I think that I’ve been able to do that.”
Running From Crazy was directed by the two-time Academy Award-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 20.
Kopple combined unseen archival footage from the Hemingway family with Mariel Hemingway’s life today as she advocates healthy lifestyles and mental illness treatment.
Hemingway told Reuters that her hopes for the documentary were that it would show how mental illness can afflict all families.
“I do come from an extraordinary family — a very creative family, a very well known family. But the fact of the matter is, my story’s not different from anybody else’s. So many people suffer from these things but aren’t allowed to talk about it. And I think if the film does anything, it allows people to say, ‘wow, if somebody like that (whoever ‘that’ is) then I can too’,” she said.
Hemingway was in London for the premiere of a new play based on her Nobel Prize winning grandfather’s novel FIESTA (The Sun Also Rises). Like many of Hemingway’s novels, The Sun Also Rises is semi-autobiographical, tying in with Mariel’s documentary film on the ‘Hemingway curse’ and her family’s tragic history.
“He was one of the greatest writers of the 20th century and that’s never going to change, but it’s always wonderful to re-invent him in different generations, in different art forms,” Mariel Hemingway said of her grandfather and the ways his work can be presented to subsequent generations.
The passionate adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s first novel fuses theatre with a live jazz band, and tries to capture the sensual beauty and the raw brutality of Hemingway’s tale of love, loss and decadence in 1920s Spain.
The play’s director, Alex Helfrecht, was emotionally moved by Mariel Hemingway’s support and awed by the Hemingway lineage.
Helfrecht said: “It’s something magical, because when I look at her, I see him (Ernest Hemingway). I see that it’s two generations removed and it’s wonderful, because whatever people think of it (the play), it’s a hugely rewarding aspect for me that she’s there. It means a hell of a lot. And the fact that she supports the play and appreciates what I’ve done… it’s just, it’s great.”