When a freelance writer and publicist Melanie Bowden Simon wrote his memoirs “La Americana”, she could never, in her wildest dreams, have imagined that her story of love and heartbreak, set in the rich cultural context of Havana, Cuba, would one day become a film adaptation. She also didn’t expect it to be produced by movie legend Savannah and Leopold ice cream owner Stratton Leopold.
SimÃ³n’s 2016 memoir launch party was underway at Pacci’s Italian Kitchen when Leopold walked in and walked straight to the author. She hadn’t seen the film producer since they first met in 2013, when she ran into and interviewed him at a cafe, but Leopold had read a recent Savannah Morning News article about the book and had become hooked. . The first thing he said to Simon when he saw her again? âThis is a movie. ”
âI always say it was literally like a movie in itself,â SimÃ³n said of the moment.
It was a moment that Leopold said unfolded spontaneously, leading to long conversations with Melanie and her husband Luis SimÃ³n and years of planning, research and marketing, with history and culture being a big draw to Leopold.
âThe public wants a story. And a story is there. The public wants music. The music is there. So this is not a special effects image. It’s a film that has a story, âsaid LÃ©opold. âIt’s phenomenal the intersection that can be engendered with this. Culturally, I respond to it personally because I spoke Greek at home because my parents were from Greece. So it also resonates on this level with me. “
The memoirs follow SimÃ³n at age 25 as she arrives in Cuba with her friend Cynthia Sweet, a vacation that came when she quit her dream job at Tina Brown’s Talk magazine in New York City. 2001 was a tumultuous time not only for SimÃ³n – she was grappling with the recent death of her mother from cancer – but also for relations between the United States and Cuba.
However, a story of heartbreak quickly turned into an unexpected love story when she met her husband, Luis SimÃ³n, a taxi driver who showed her around Cuba at the time. It was a love that overcame barriers such as language and immigration and a union that crossed countries and culture.
âHe didn’t speak a word of English, so our connection was so much deeper. I mean, it was really instinctive, âsaid Melanie SimÃ³n. âAnd the story is, I think, a story of – there’s obviously love and there’s loss – but there’s a lot of hope. And for me, that’s kind of the central feeling that I can’t wait to share because I think it’s something that anyone can hold onto and feel good about.
The film is in the pre-production phase as the team, including producer Lori Berlanga, who has worked with LÃ©opold for decades, plans the development of the film in terms of cast, crew and budget. Fundraising was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, but since restrictions eased over the past three months, they have been able to continue raising the funds needed to capture the film.
“Technically, depending on when we finalize the whole budget and start [filming] … we could have it [the film] ready at the end of 2022 â, declared LÃ©opold.
Georgia has been hailed as “Hollywood of the South” as it takes the film industry by storm. Almost 800 films have been shot in Savannah, and âLa Americanaâ will soon be added to this list as part of the film will be set in Melanie SimÃ³n’s birthplace. Leopold also hopes to use the local crew as much as possible for the shoot.
While much of his experience has been embracing Cuba’s rich culture, being able to shoot in bustling Havana could prove to be a challenge, so the team plans to use San Juan, Puerto Rico as a backdrop due to their cinematic incentives and available crew.
One thing that will not change is the energetic and moving aspect of Cuban music.
“Right from the start, he [Leopold] acknowledged that he had seen that there was an international global component and the success he planned, on a global scale, not only for the film but also for the soundtrack because Latin music dominates the world â , said Melanie SimÃ³n.
The team are in talks with a well-known Latin composer, whom they cannot yet reveal, and are looking to recruit a Latin pop star like Luis SimÃ³n who will serve as the natural link between the film and the soundtrack.
Generally speaking, the involvement of the writers in screen adaptations can vary, but SimÃ³n said she was very involved in the process.
âI’m going to give Stratton such great credit because I’ve heard it isn’t,â said Melanie SimÃ³n. âI have complete confidence in our teamâ¦ I’ve certainly heard stories that it doesn’t, or people just sign and then it’s in someone else’s hands, or maybe it gets lost in the process and doesn’t even happen. So, it was really exciting to be very practical with that. And I’m really grateful for it.
Watching your life unfold on screen can be weird, but even though she said it would be weird, the excitement wins out over it all.
âIt doesn’t look like a dream anymore,â she said. âIt’s a dream, but it seems like a dream is real. It doesn’t feel like that thing in the stars anymore, and it’s really exciting.
Laura Nwogu is the Quality of Life reporter for Savannah Morning News. Contact her at [email protected] Twitter: @lauranwogu_