Industry Optimistic on New Cuba-U.S. Era

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"It’s the beginning of a new cycle," says 'Che' producer Alvaro Longoria about the historic renewal of diplomatic ties

The international film and television industry has welcomed the historic renewal of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba.

Wednesday's announcement that the U.S. government would be resuming normal relations with Cuba and plans to open an embassy in the country for the first time in 53 years was widely praised by industry executives outside the U.S., who see the move as the first step in bringing Cuba, and Cuban talent, back into the fold.

"For Cubans it is a big change," said Spain’s Alvaro Longoria, the executive producer on Oliver Stone's Comandante and Steven Soderbergh's Che biopic starring Benicio Del Toro. "The (Cuban) state can no longer use the excuse of channeling funds into defending from the invader and justify unnecessary expenses. Now the state will have to focus on making things work…The revolutionary mentality will have to change and it brings in a new cycle."

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Speaking to Cuba’s appeal for the film industry, Longoria was enthusiastic.

"Imagine when Cuba starts to be used by American films as a location,“ she said. "Virtually no American films have been shot there, and it looks like the 1950s and is full of amazing places to shoot. That will start immediately. There is a big infrastructure there with great professionals that I have worked with on my movies."

Michael Pacino, who runs Cuba Film Productions, a Havana-based production services company, said relations between the Cuban and U.S. film industries have actually been warming up for the past two years after the U.S. Treasury decided to loosen restrictions on American companies who wanted to shoot on the island.

Just this year, Bob Yari finished shooting his Ernst Hemingway biopic Papa, the first Hollywood film shot in Cuba since the start of the U.S. embargo.

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The films features Adrian Sparks as Hemingway and co-stars Giovanni Ribisi, Minka Kelly and Joely Richardson. The Discovery Channel has also just begun production on Cuban Chrome, a reality TV show focusing on the Cuban obsession with restoring classic American cars and the first series to ever get U.S. Treasury approval.

“American productions have always been welcome here in Cuba, to a large degree," Pacino says. "However, because of the embargo, getting funds into Cuba on approved projects has been problematic. This shift in policy will definitely help matters more, especially in regards to funding streams to the island for approved projects."

Pacino notes that broader moves, including allowing credit card transactions between the U.S. and Cuba, would help considerably in boosting business. He adds, however that "it is a bit early to predict the ultimate outcome of this policy change, especially when there are knuckle-head politicians such as Sen. Marco Rubio, who feel the repression of this 50-years old policy should continue. Let's hope rational minds and the spirit of diplomacy prevails."

Writer-director Paul Chitlik, who has taught screenwriting at the Havana’s film and television universtiy, EICTV, Film School, said while the country was "still very poor and short on resources," Cuba has made "some amazing strides in moving towards capitalism." Chitlik, whose new feature The Wedding Dress is set for a January 2015 release, said "opportunities to shoot (in Cuba) abound - not to mention the number of old American cars driving on the streets."

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It remains to be seen to what degree Hollywood will embrace President Obama’s new policy towards Cuba. Oscar-nominated and Havana-born actor Andy Garcia set his directorial debut, The Lost City in his old hometown, but shot the film in the Dominican Republic. Garcia’s is preparing his own Cuban-set Hemingway biopic, called Hemingway and Fuentes, but is unlikely to shoot the film on location. Like many exile Cubans in America, he is virulently opposed to returning to the country until Fidel Castro’s communist regime falls and Cuba becomes a true democracy.

Garcia declined requests from The Hollywood Reporter to comment following Obama’s announcement, but the actor has made his views clear on the subject. During the Elian Gonzalez affair in early 2000, Garcia joined several Cuban-Americans, including singer Gloria Estefan, in calling for the Cuban boy to remain in the United States and not be returned to his father in Cuba.

At the time, Garcia condemned what he saw as the pro-Castro stance of the U.S. media. "The media in America has always taken a sort of lenient point of view on the situation with Fidel Castro and what he stands for,“ Garcia noted, also criticizing Hollywood for making movies about Cuba where "there's always been a sort of a favorable point of view of the entire situation with Castro and his regime."

Broadly, however, the response to the historic news has been well-received in Hollywood, with celebrities from Cuban-born TV host and model Daisy Fuentes to Oscar-winning documentarian Michael Moore to music producer Russell Simmons at least cautiously optimistic, judging by their tweets on the issue, which are embedded below.

Tim Appelo and John Hecht contributed to this story.

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