Legendary filmmaker Philip Kaufman — director of The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and many others — has lived in Pacific Heights for years. His latest film premieres on May 28 at 9 p.m. when HBO broadcasts Hemingway & Gellhorn, starring Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen.
Hemingway & Gellhorn is a love story exploring the tempestuous relationship between writers Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn, which was the inspiration for Hemingway’s classic novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls. Though the story takes place in nine different countries, the film was shot over 40 days entirely on location in San Francisco and the Bay Area, which stood in for Spain, Finland, Cuba, New York, Shanghai, Key West and Idaho.
Key scenes were filmed at the Swedenborgian Church at Washington and Lyon Streets, only a few blocks from Kaufman’s home.
“One scene takes place in a church in Finland that had been converted for wartime use,” says Kaufman. “We were looking for something — maybe not Finnish, but with that approximate feeling. And of course I’d been to weddings there.”
Incorporating archival black and white footage of Finnish soldiers, Kaufman recreates the scene with snow and icicles on the historic church. “Then the color comes back into it,” he says, “and we find Nicole writing letters to Hemingway — actually taken from the real letters.”
Another scene was shot in the wooden stairway of the church’s parish house, standing in for the small British hotel where Gellhorn and Hemingway had their final rendezvous. “It’s where they break up their relationship,” says Kaufman. “It’s their final scene together.”
During the filming, Kaufman walked home to Vallejo Street for lunch, then back to work at the church.
“We can make films here and use local people, yet create a film that could be made anywhere in the world,” Kaufman says. “It’s great. It’s just great working here.”
Read more: Cannes celebrates Philip Kaufman