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Andy Garcia goes Cuban

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Los Angeles (Reuters): More than a labour of love, new movie The Lost City was a labour of life for Cuban-born actor Andy Garcia. Garcia, 50, directed, produced, scored and starred in the film about pre-communist Cuba that begins playing in theatres around the United States on Friday after a limited run in Los Angeles, New York and Miami. The actor, whose movies include ''Ocean's Eleven'' and ''Ocean's Twelve,'' laboured 18 years to raise money and make ''Lost City,'' but he said the seeds of his story go back to when he was 5-1/2 and fled the country and the communist regime under leader Fidel Castro.

''From a very early age, I was stimulated by the stories and music of Cuba, and I continue that interest to this day,'' he told Reuters. But the problem for Garcia is that Hollywood was not as excited about a 300-page movie script for ''Lost City,'' written by Cuban exile and novelist Guillermo Cabrera-Infante. A typical movie screenplay is around 120 pages. ''Lost City'' possessed an epic scope, a lush setting, revolution, love and a family torn apart by politics. Those elements looked good on paper, but for Hollywood the idea appeared too expensive to make for a seemingly small audience-Cuban Americas and Latinos.But Garcia saw it differently, and said the movie has a universal appeal. ''They marginalized the potential of the film,'' he said. ''Diversity is one of the things people go to movies for.''

''Lost City'' revolves around nightclub owner Fico Fellove (Garcia), the oldest of three brothers who are members of an upper class family. Their father is a well-respected university professor, and their uncle is a gentrified land owner. Fico disdains the revolutionary politics of the day, but his brothers take sides in the fight to overthrow dictator Fulgencio Batista. One joins a nationalist group backing a new democracy; the other takes up arms for the communist revolutionaries led by Castro and Ernesto ''Che'' Guevara. As events unfold, audiences are given a sort of tour of Cuban culture and history-music, dance, rural life and the wild nights of pre-Castro Havana with its clubs and casinos. Of particular importance to Garcia is the Cuban music. The actor is an accomplished musician himself, and he used some 40 songs in the movie's soundtrack.

Garcia has called Lost City an homage to the generations of exiles who emigrated to the United States. Castro and Batista are both seen as ruthless dictators. The nationalists who try to restore democracy are heroes, and Fico and his family are victims. The actor noted that even though the events in ''Lost City'' happened around 50 years ago, the movie is relevant today as leftist leaders such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales come into power in South America. ''It's still happening,'' he said.

Garcia and his family emigrated to Miami in 1961. In Cuba, Garcia's father had been a lawyer and his family owned a small farm. In the United States, he went to work delivering food for a catering company, Garcia said. The actor's career began in his mid-20's on television. He steadily worked his way up Hollywood's ladder, and finally gained wide recognition in 1990 in Francis Ford Coppola's ''The Godfather Part III.'' He has appeared in big-budget movies like the ''Ocean's'' crime capers and low-budget films such as 2004's ''Modigliani,'' in which he portrayed the artist Amedeo Modigliani.

Over the years, Lost City has remained his darling. When major Hollywood studios would not produce the film, Garcia found independent financing from a Beverly Hills-based merger and buyout company, Platinum Equity, whose principal partners include Cuban-born Johnny O. Lopez.

''Lost City'' cost 9.5 million dollars to make, and was shot over a brief 35 days in the Dominican Republic. Garcia called in favours from big name stars like Bill Murray and Dustin Hoffman to appear in the film, and his love interest is portrayed by Spanish beauty Ines Sastre. Garcia said that his greatest hope is that the movie plays well at theatres, and that people see it on big movie screens instead of waiting for the DVD but his greatest achievement, he said, is that a movie about Cuba and its people exists at all. ''There was a story waiting to be told,'' he said.

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