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April 18, 2022

Petoskey filmmaker heads downstate with film on Young Hemingway

PETOSKEY, MI – At 84, documentarian George Colburn returns to his old neighborhood on Detroit’s northwest side to show his latest film – about Hemingway in Michigan – at the Redford Theatre on Thursday evening. A social hour kicks off the evening at the Redford Theatre at 5:30 p.m.with the screening to follow at 8 p.m.

“The social hour is for me to see a few relatives and friends who still live in the Detroit area, but I hope that a few of my former neighbors or school chums might show up to say hello, ” Colburn says with a smile; “tho I realize I probably have outlived most of them.”  Colburn finished grade school in 1951 at Christ the King School and then went to the new west-side Catholic Central from 1951 to 1955.

After four years at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids where he earned a B.A. in history, Colburn spent the next 18 months studying journalism at Wayne State University and working at the Detroit Times. When the Hearst newspaper was sold and closed by the Detroit News, Colburn took his severance check and moved to northern California where he worked for a weekly newspaper group in the San Francisco suburbs. He returned to Michigan in 1963 when his father became seriously ill.

His father died in 1964, but Colburn stayed in the state close to his mother, his brothers and the home on the northwest side.  He earned a Ph.D. degree in history at Michigan State University and a Pulitzer Prize nomination in the early 1970s for his reporting about the departure of John Hannah from the long-time leadership of the university.

A political activist, Colburn led a movement on behalf of the right of MSU students to vote where they lived, not where their parents lived.  He had been denied the right to vote in East Lansing in the pivotal 1964 presidential election. In 1971 he was elected to the East Lansing City Council and was the leader of the majority that stopped construction of a cross-campus highway and initiated a $5 “pot” ordinance for recreational use of marijuana.

Before Colburn left Michigan for jobs outside the state that led ultimately to his involvement in documentary television, he began construction of his home “near Walloon Lake” that became his permanent home 20 years ago with wife, Karen.  The move came after he completed a major documentary series in the late 1990s on Dwight D.  Eisenhower’s military and political careers. The series, hosted by Gen. Colin Powel, appeared first on broadcast television via the Disney network and then the History Channel.

His latest documentary about young Ernie Hemingway in Michigan took Colburn nine years to complete while he finished other films. It’s all about “up north” in Michigan’s lower peninsula – on the Lake Michigan side – where Ernest Hemingway’s family had their summer cottage, Windemere, on Walloon Lake. Hemingay spent portions of 22 summers in the Walloon Lake area from the time he was six weeks old. The impact of these years on his literature is apparent in the many stories he later wrote about “Nick Adams.” The documentary also makes extensive use of his letters and their frequent references to the inspiration of the waters and woods of Michigan.

“Windemere is up at the top of Walloon Lake while I have have a home about 5 miles east of the lake’s bottom,” Colburn notes.  “I couldn’t afford property on the lake 50 years ago and I can’t afford it today,” he adds, while saying his home is within sight of the slopes at his favorite ski area.

“Thanks to a social relationship with Ernie Mainland, nephew of Ernest the Nobel Prize winner in literature, I was not a stranger at Windemere,” Colburn says, and I could not resist the temptation of starting work on a film after many major scholars came to Petoskey and Bay View in 2012 for an international Hemingway Conference.”

As soon as he completed a dozen interviews over 4 days in the summer of 2012, Colburn says “I was hooked; there was a good and little known story to tell.” He found endorsement of his viewpoint in a small chapter of Paul Hendrickson”s best-seller, Hemingway’s Boat, and the project officially began added greatly by the publication of Volume One of the Hemingway Letters Project at Penn State University.

For more information on the Detroit screening at the Redford Theatre, go to the threatre’s website, or to the film’s website, Screenings are also planned in Saginaw, Grand Rapids, and East Lansing over the next few months, Colburn said.  The tour ends on July 21, Hemingway’s birthday, in Boyne City with a screening at the Center for Performing Arts. The local Boyne Heritage Center plans special events to coincide with the screening (


George A Colburn
George A. Colburn