Alumnus explores Hemingway’s past

What did Ernest Hemingway contribute to the world? While most people may not spend much time reflecting on this question, recent graduate Jimmy Gildea ’14 is certainly fascinated by it. Gildea’s interest led him to recently create a documentary, “Papa’s Shadow,” that centers around Hemingway’s life and legacy.

At St. Olaf, Gildea studied philosophy and film studies. After graduation, he founded Ramble Pictures, a film company dedicated to creating socially impactful films. He always knew he wanted to make films, but his interest in Hemingway was not sparked until his sophomore year at St. Olaf. When Gildea attended a study abroad fair, he met Professor of English Joseph Mbele and learned of his genuine passion for Hemingway and African culture. Gildea enrolled in the study abroad program “Hemingway in East Africa” and traveled around East Africa with Professor Mbele and other St. Olaf students.

As part of the course, the group journeyed across the Serengeti Desert and Tanzanian game reserves in order to understand Hemingway’s experience. Gildea also travelled to visit Hemingway’s birth place in Oak Park, Ill. and his burial site in Idaho.

Gildea described Hemingway’s African experiences as the most influencial, as they evoked an unmatched level of happiness in the late author. This genuine happiness was recognized by Hemingway’s son, Patrick Hemingway, who plays a crucial role in the film. He agreed to filmed interviews after Mbele reached out him, and Gildea’s team travelled to Craig, Mont. to speak with the late author’s son.

“[Patrick Hemingway] exceeded all of my expectations,” Gildea said. “He’s the most intelligent man I’ve ever met. The man’s like an encyclopedia.”

Gildea described Hemingway’s love for activities such as fly fishing and hunting, much like his father. He was also impressed by the 87-year-old’s never ending mission to improve himself, both physically and intellectually; Hemingway even picked up mathematics at the age of 80, just as a hobby. His life mimics his father’s, in his love for adventure and justice.

“Papa’s Shadow” follows the three men’s (Mbele’s, Hemingway’s and Gildea’s) attempts to live vicariously through Hemingway and his travels. The film emphasizes Hemingway’s travel ethics and respect for African culture. Gildea’s primary goal for the film is to compare and contrast African and American cultures and to provide a conversational bridge between the two.

“I hope audiences observe the consistent sense of irony in the film; the people who are able to visit these far off places come from a certain demographic,” said Gildea, “I hope that irony is obvious, and that it is a self-critical piece.”

Gildea credits his undergraduate experience for helping make realizing his vocation a reality. St. Olaf’s philosophy of making students into world citizens with expanded perceptions and involvement in mankind resonated with Gildea, who also observed this same belief in Ernest Hemingway.

The philosophy professors at St. Olaf especially motivated Gildea to do what he was passionate about in life. Gildea recommends that every St. Olaf student read Professor of Philosophy Gordon Marino’s article in the New York Times, “A Life Beyond ‘Do What you Love.’”

A post-graduate internship in Los Angeles with family-based film company “American Zoetrope” inspired Gildea to structure his company similarly. He brought in close friends that shared a common goal, many of whom are also Ole alumni.

“[Ramble Pictures] transcends who we are as individuals. It’s something that we all value, and that will sustain it,” Gildea said.

Professor Mbele praised Gildea for his determination and passion.

“Jimmy represents the kind of student who has a dream, has an interest in something, and he goes for it…it is a labor of love,” Mbele said. “This would be a good lesson for St. Olaf students, to do something you really like. It’s not about money. Jimmy and his friends are following their passion, they want to make socially relevant films. They are really admirable, facing any obstacle cheerfully.”

Ramble Pictures currently has two other films in progress, which can be previewed at The company is currently raising money to pay for licensing for “Papa’s Shadow,” as the film is completed but cannot yet be shown to the public. Gildea hopes to complete the fundraising soon and bring the film on tour around the Midwest. A Kickstarter campaign is running until Oct. 13, with hopes of completing the film. More information can be found at

Gildea and Mbele hope “Papa’s Shadow” will have an impact on audiences.

“I’m so happy that this desire of my heart is being brought to the public,” said Mbele. “This film is going to make a big impact, there’s no doubt about that.”