LELAND — The small cottage on Walloon Lake is easy to overlook.
But the vacation home where Ernest Hemingway spent his youth has unrecognized significance, said documentarian George Colburn.
Colburn, also a historian, professor and former journalist, is finalizing his 100-minute look into the famed 20th century author’s northern Michigan influences.
“Young Hemingway and his Enduring Eden,” which Colburn filmed in part at Windemere, Hemingway’s lakeside cottage near Petoskey, will be screened on Jan. 19 at Leland’s Old Art Building.
“Michigan has been badly neglected by historians and the literary crowd,” Colburn said. “The thing the family in Oak Park (where Hemingway grew up) looked forward to all year long was the trips up to Walloon Lake. (Hemingway) was there from the time he was 6 weeks old to the time he was married.
“He takes Michigan with him for the rest of his life.”
The author, best known for “The Sun Also Rises,” “The Old Man and the Sea,” “A Farewell to Arms” and as a recipient of both a Nobel and Pulizter prize, grew up in Illinois and spent his later years mainly in France, Florida and Cuba. Michigan, though, was a regular backdrop in Hemingway’s formative years, Colburn said. Hemingway returned to Windemere — built in 1899 when he was an infant — several times during his life, including in 1919 after an injury forced him to leave the military.
“That’s where he recuperated and started his writing,” Colburn said. “And where did he choose to get married? Horton Bay.”
The landscape bled into Hemingway’s works, particularly his early short stories, Colburn added.
“Nick Adams (the protagonist of Hemingway’s ‘The Nick Adams Stories’) was one of those great literary figures, and he was created based on his time in Michigan,” he said.
“Young Hemingway” got its start when Colburn learned that a series of letters written in Hemingway’s youth were being collected and annotated at Pennsylvania State University.
Having spent summers on Walloon Lake himself and later living in the area full-time, the filmmaker was intrigued.
An invitation to attend the 2012 biennial meeting of the International Hemingway Society, held in nearby Bayview, spurred Colburn to start filming.
“I thought, ‘this would be a great time to interview them,” Colburn said.
Talking to the scholars present only reinforced his interest, and when Colburn showed a brief video at the end of the conference, attendees urged him to take the “Young Hemingway” project further.
“People were interested,” Colburn said. “We got a grant of $20,000 from an individual to make it possible.”
Donations from other northern Michigan residents, paired with grants from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the Meijer Foundation, helped the project continue.
The documentary was produced under Colburn’s Starbright Media Corporation, and the crew consists mainly of volunteers with help from a few locals.
An early scene features young Hemingway — Michigan actor Brian Kozminski — fishing near Windemere, while Joshua MacVey, of the Petoskey area, voices Hemingway throughout the film.
Starbright Media partnered with East Lansing nonprofit Contemporary Learning Systems, Inc., on the project.
“It has a lot of local footage in northern Michigan, interviews, archives, film and stills,” Colburn said. “We filmed all over the area — Horton Bay, Bayview. And then places like Boston and (Pennsylvania) State University, where the letter project is being conducted.
“We’re really focusing on Hemingway in Michigan.”
“Young Hemingway’s” visual medium, he added, offers a unique perspective.
“What I’ve tried to do in the film is integrate biographical information with literary observation and the thoughts of scholars. That context can only be done visually. You can talk to scholars, but until you see what northern Michigan looks like, you don’t get it,” Colburn said. “As a documentarian, I’m a messenger of people who really know the subject. I’m carrying the message that Michigan was absolutely critical to everything (Hemingway) did throughout his professional life.”
Filming included drones to get unique views of the northern Michigan forests, lakes and rivers Hemingway frequented.
“You just can’t get it with a few still pictures in a book or a camera on the ground,” Colburn said.
After creating a new epilogue for “Young Hemingway” in Paris later this year — the last piece needed to finalize the film — Colburn said he will focus on raising funds for a new, multi-part version for educational use.
“That’s the next phase, to bring this into the classroom,” he said. “I think it will be a good introduction to Hemingway.”
The film is well worth seeing, Colburn added.
“If you want to understand what this great, 20th-century literary giant is all about, then I think (‘Young Hemingway’) is illuminating,”he said. “And it adds so much footage to the area, it’s even illuminating in that way — you really get a feeling of what we have in this corner of the peninsula.
“It’s a real door-opener on his life in northern Michigan.”
If you go
The documentary will make its local debut at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 19 at the Old Art Building, 111 S. Main St., Leland. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students.
The 100-minute screening will end with a question-and-answer session with writer/producer George Colburn.
Call 231-256-2131 for more information.