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In documentary 'Papa,' Hemingway look-alikes stress the importance of being Ernest

Hemingway look-alikes subject of new film showing @CinemaParadiso5 for #FilmedinBroward fest.

For one week every summer in Key West, the jolliest place in town may be Sloppy Joe's bar, where tourists can find overexcited, portly old men with Santa-length beards who call themselves "the Papas."

This is the Ernest Hemingway Look-Alike Contest, which gathers 150 grizzled guys in khakis and stifling wool sweaters for a week of camaraderie and fun on the island the author called home in the 1930s. It was here, in the bar on Duval Street, the main tourist drag, where Fort Lauderdale filmmaker Shane Eason first spotted the collection of Papas onstage, all vying to best resemble Hemingway.

The faux Hemingways and their Key West adventures are the subject of Eason's new documentary "Papa," which will kick off this weekend's free "Filmed in Broward: Take 2" film festival, on Friday, July 1, at Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale. Eason says he started the project by taking his documentary crew down to film the 2011 Look-Alike Contest, where he caught Jensen Beach's Matt Gineo, one of the Papas, sobbing, "I did it!" as a large medallion was lowered around his neck. It was his first win after 15 straight years of competing.

"We initially went down to be flies on the wall, without expecting to interview anyone," Eason recalls. "But these Hemingways all had some sort of story to tell, and it wasn't all related to Hemingway. Some of them had no idea who Hemingway was. It was just a frat party, pretty much, for old guys, like an Elk's Lodge or the Freemasons."

During the contest, the wannabes will do just about anything to curry favor with the judges, who are themselves former Look-Alike winners: sing, dance, read poetry — sometimes shadowbox in fighting trunks. But for Eason, a film professor at Florida Atlantic University in Davie, the Papa wannabes' daily lives proved more fascinating than Key West's annual Hemingway Days, which includes the Look-Alike contest, fishing tournaments and "Running of the Bulls," in which the Papas trot down Duval astride plastic bulls. (This year's Hemingway Days returns July 19-24.)

After the 2011 Papas parted ways in Key West, Eason says he followed a few bearded men to stops in West Palm Beach north as far as Rockport, Mass., home of competitor Denis Golden, the film's softhearted protagonist and a contest fan favorite for his stage shtick of singing old-timey songs.

"I wanted to know why these guys kept going down ever year when they're not really interested in Hemingway," Eason says. "But Denis is a true Hemingway fan. He had this stroke in Massachusetts, lives alone, but the only thing he looks forward to every year is the contest and his Papa friends."

"Papa" will join 14 other indie comedies, dramas and documentaries set in Broward or shot by local filmmakers, says Gregory von Hausch, Cinema Paradiso's CEO. The country's Broward Cultural Division granted the theater $3,500 to present the festival, which last year rolled out South Florida-set Hollywood classics such as "Caddyshack" and "There's Something About Mary."

"We wanted to champion more indie films and local filmmakers this year," von Hausch says. " 'The Birdcage' is fun for the audience and all, but why come here when you can watch that on Netflix?"

After "Papa," the festival continues Saturday with "Foster Shock," Broward writer Brian Bayerl's probe into Florida's privatized foster-care system; and wraps with the Hollywood-set "Canvas," starring Marcia Gay Harden and Joe Pantoliano about a father struggling to cope with a wife diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Following is the full "Filmed in Broward" schedule.

Friday, July 1

5:15 p.m. The Discussion II

7:00 p.m. Papa

8:30 p.m. Opening-night party

Saturday, July 2

Noon Pembroke Circle

2:00 p.m. Sweet Dillard

4:00 p.m. Foster Shock

5:45 p.m. Greater Goode; Fatboy: The Movie

7:45 p.m. The Last Hit

9:30 p.m. Centerpiece party in the courtyard

Sunday, July 3

1:00 p.m. Pioneer Winter; Saving Grace: The AIDS Crisis in the Black Community

1:45 p.m. Instruments of Change

3:15 p.m. Slaphappia

4:00 p.m. Tom Dowd and the Language of Music

6:00 p.m. Canvas

8:00 p.m. Closing-night party

"Filmed in Broward: Take 2" will run Friday, July 1, through Sunday, July 3, at Cinema Paradiso, 503 SE Sixth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. The opening-night party ($15) kicks off 8:30 p.m. July 1. Admission is free. Call 954-525-3456 or go to FLIFF.com.

pvalys@sun-sentinel.com or Twitter @philvalys

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