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A fixation now in focus

It took nearly 20 years, but Andy Garcia brings the historic plight of Cuban exiles to the big screen.

April 23, 2006|Agustin Gurza | Times Staff Writer

LIKE a lot of proud fathers, actor Andy Garcia keeps a drawing made by his daughter, Dominik, pinned to the wall behind his busy desk. It's a sketch of Havana's iconic sea wall, with a billowy blue sea splashing below the city's historic skyline.

The precocious painter, a Valley girl by birth, had never been to Havana, but she knew how much the city meant to her father. He was 5 when he left his hometown, three years younger than she was when she made the drawing, inspired by images of Cuba that abounded in her household. The future actor and his family had been forced into exile by the Cuban revolution, escaping with little more than their memories and the beginnings of a haunting nostalgia for a vanishing way of life.

For as long as Dominik could remember, her father had wanted to make a movie about that bitter exile experience. He even had a name for the film in his head, "The Lost City." And he had a script about a family ripped apart by Cuba's civil war, a 300-page screenplay by the late novelist and fellow exile Guillermo Cabrera Infante.

Even a schoolgirl knows that in Hollywood, a movie needs a good marketing plan. So when she brought home her Havana-in-Crayolas, Dominik announced: "Papi, I've got the poster for the movie!"

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday April 25, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 18 words Type of Material: Correction
Ernest Hemingway: The author's last name was misspelled as Hemmingway in a Sunday Calendar article about Andy Garcia.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 30, 2006 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 0 inches; 17 words Type of Material: Correction
Ernest Hemingway: The author's last name was misspelled as Hemmingway in last Sunday's article about Andy Garcia.

The drawing survives as a reminder of Garcia's 18-year crusade -- his obsession, really -- to make the film of his dreams. "The Lost City," which marks the actor's feature directorial debut, finally opens Friday in Los Angeles, New York and Miami, with Garcia leading a cast of primarily fellow Cuban Americans. It opens wider May 12.

The publicity poster for the film isn't based on that drawing by Dominik, now 22. But the budding actress still does her part for her father's film, playing his sister-in-law in a brief supporting role.

In the time it took Garcia to make the movie, he went from relative anonymity to become the most successful Cuban American actor since Desi Arnaz. He earned an Oscar nomination ("The Godfather: Part III") and won an Emmy (for the soundtrack of HBO's biopic "For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story") and a Grammy (as producer of "Ahora Si" by Israel Lopez"Cachao"). He lost his beloved father 10 years ago and his esteemed screenwriter last year.

This month, Garcia turned 50. He was prepared to go another 50 to make his movie a reality, he said. He even envisioned playing older characters in the cast as he aged, or not playing in the cast at all. One way or another, this film was going to be his life's work.

"It had to happen for me," says the actor. "Or I was going to die trying."


The wounds that don't heal

TWO things have not changed in half a century: Fidel Castro remains in power, and Garcia remains in exile along with countless other Cubans around the world.

For many of them, becoming part of the diaspora is the defining act of their existence. The moment of leaving their cherished homeland marks the before and after in their lives. The state of exile keeps them always in an unsettled balance between yearning for what they lost and hoping for its recovery.

Time is so precious to exiles that Garcia measures it in small increments, like a child. He says he was "5 1/2 " when he left Havana. He marks the year as "1961 and a half," 30 months after Castro rode victoriously into the capital on Jan. 1, 1959.

There have been several movies about the Cuban revolution and its lionized leaders, most recently "Motorcycle Diaries" about a young, idealistic Che Guevara. But one part of the story has never been truly captured on film, says Garcia: The story of those who chose to leave. And that's why he made this movie.

"It's really a homage to the generation of parents who brought us here," says Garcia, who left the island with his mother, his grandmother and two siblings, with his father soon following. "They made that sacrifice, to come to a country with no money, not speaking the language, just to make sure that their children are free to think for themselves and pursue their dreams....

"It takes a lot more courage to leave than it does to stay."

Made for $9 million and shot over 35 days in the Dominican Republic, "The Lost City" is the story of a well-to-do Cuban family swept up in the rebellion led by Castro and Guevara, both portrayed briefly in the film. It's set in Havana of the late 1950s, the glamorous Paris of the Caribbean where U.S. mobsters ran casinos and elites frolicked while peasants went hungry and dictator Fulgencio Batista kept order with an iron fist.

Garcia stars as Fico Fellove, the oldest of three brothers who take radically different paths as the revolution engulfs their city. Two would stay and fight for the revolution. Fico tries to stay above the fray, but he eventually decides his only alternative is to get out.

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