June 24, 2021

Slowly, Cuba Is Developing an Appetite for Spending

“This is novel — at least in Cuba,” said Mr. Alejandro, 33, who on a recent evening was waiting to see his second 3-D movie, “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.”

“If people have a little more money to spend, they look for ways to spend it,” said Mr. Alejandro, who works at a state-owned recording studio by day and builds Web sites for his own clients by night. “Now, you have a few more options for going out and entertaining yourself.”

Mr. Alejandro is part of a small, but increasingly visible, consumer class in Cuba whose appetite for luxuries, albeit modest ones by American standards, has caught the eye of the island’s entrepreneurs.

Some savvy businesspeople are transforming their homes and garages into small movie theaters, others are renting out swimming pools or opening sports bars, cafes with video games, carwashes and even pet-grooming shops.

“It’s not consumption as such — not yet,” Mr. Alejandro said. “It’s the seed of consumption.”

People like Mr. Alejandro are strictly a minority in Cuba, where the state pays its four million workers an average salary of $19 a month and pensioners receive just over half that. Though they get food rations, health care, and, in many cases, remittances from relatives or money from black-market trade, most Cubans live humbly, with even toilet paper a luxury.

A woman who requested that she be identified only by her first name, Yunesky, said her husband’s salary of $80 a month as a private security guard was barely enough to cover food, soap and detergent for her family of five.

“A 3-D movie? No, no,” she said, pointing to her two daughters and her grandson. “I can’t even afford to buy them an ice cream.”

But the number of Cubans who have spending money has grown over the past four years, as President Raúl Castro opened the economy to limited nonstate business and farming.

Today, about one million Cubans, or 9 percent of the population, work or farm in the private sector, up from about 600,000 in 2009, according to government statistics.

At the same time, new markets for used cars and houses have flushed money into the system, economists say, while the Cuban diaspora has pumped cash and goods into businesses.

The new entrepreneurs and farmers have joined the others who make up Cuba’s peculiar consumer class: waiters, artists, musicians, black marketeers, corrupt government workers and a clutch of longstanding business owners.

And they are spending more and more openly.

On an island where everyone is supposed to be equal, the privileged often keep a low profile, building scruffy walls around a well-appointed house, say, or drinking beer in their living rooms rather than in the local bar.

But that is changing, said Liván Beltrán, 47, who two months ago opened a carwash and a diner in the yard of his house. There, he cleans 60 cars a day, the majority belonging to Cubans, for $3 to $7.

Mr. Castro has repeatedly railed against egalitarianism, which he loosely defined as one worker loafing while another works hard. Cuba must strive for “a society that is less egalitarian, but more fair,” he said in a speech to the National Assembly in February.

Soon after taking office in 2008, Mr. Castro opened the way for more consumption by allowing Cubans to stay in hotels for the first time and to buy mobile phones and laptop computers.

Since then, the economic overhauls have legalized many businesses that formerly operated underground and have reduced the stigma attached to having money, Mr. Beltrán said.

“The question is not whether there are Cubans with money,” said Mr. Beltrán, gesturing at the Cubans and foreigners sipping beer while his workers sprayed their cars with power hoses and vacuumed the interiors. “It’s where do you spend it? How do you spend it?”

With ease, apparently. Figures published by the National Statistical Office indicate that nearly 1.5 million Cubans stayed at hotels or spent money on tourist activities in 2012, up from 1.3 million in 2011. A worker at a hotel sports club, where monthly membership costs about $50, said the ratio of Cuban clients to expatriates had risen significantly over the past three years.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/07/world/americas/slowly-cuba-is-developing-an-appetite-for-spending.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Megan Ellison and Annapurna Pictures Tackle Hollywood

Instead of a goddess, Annapurna Pictures has Megan Ellison, a 25-year-old scion of Silicon Valley, who over the last year or so has been feeding what may soon be hundreds of millions of dollars to the hungriest part of the movie business: the writers, producers, directors and stars who make sophisticated dramas and adventure films that are too risky for studios and their corporate owners.

At least six movies set for release in the coming months received substantial backing from Ms. Ellison and her company. They include “The Master,” a drama about a cult that resembles Scientology that stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and is being directed by Paul Thomas Anderson of “There Will Be Blood” fame. Another high-profile project, still untitled, tackles the killing of Osama bin Laden; it is being written and produced by Mark Boal and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, both Oscar winners for “The Hurt Locker.”

Earlier this year, Ms. Ellison bought the rights to the well-worn “Terminator” franchise for a reported $20 million. She is developing a film based on “The Boy Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” an article about the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange by the departing executive editor of The New York Times, Bill Keller.

In all, it is a remarkable surge for a young woman who earlier this year was such a minor player that her executive producer credit on Paramount’s “True Grit” almost escaped notice: One player on the eight-member producing team said he was unaware of her credit until last week.

But the jury is still very much out on Ms. Ellison, whose father, Lawrence J. Ellison, is the chief executive of Oracle. She is spending money in a particular corner of moviedom, and doing it with a spirit more akin to the freewheeling world of technology start-ups than a film industry entering its second century. But there have been plenty of outsiders — the Seagram heir Edgar Bronfman Jr., eBay’s Jeff Skoll and Microsoft’s Paul Allen — who have been frustrated when they tried to make waves in the movie business.

Ms. Ellison invested in “True Grit” with her 28-year-old brother, David, who last year raised about $350 million in equity and borrowed funds for his own film company, Skydance Productions.

Since then, she has grabbed the limelight by diving into complex — and sometimes expensive — films that might not exist without her backing. Meanwhile, David counts on an alliance with Paramount Pictures and hews closer to the mainstream, making bets on safer pictures like the forthcoming “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol.”

“She has this grand vision; she wants to be the one-stop shop for filmmakers,” said Michael Benaroya, 30, a member of a Seattle real estate family who has joined Ms. Ellison in financing a thriller called “Catch .44” and “The Wettest County in the World,” a Prohibition-era crime drama, both of which still await release.

Ms. Ellison declined interview requests.

Friends and business associates describe her as shy, though not too shy to have reportedly posted on MySpace a photo of herself with the caption: “Drunk dialing Dad in Paris after 3 bottles of Dom.” Like her father and brother, Ms. Ellison is not a college graduate, though both she and David attended the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts (David is enrolled there, and planning to graduate, according to the school.)

But she is not without focus. A competitive equestrian, she trained on jumpers at the Wild Turkey Farm in Woodside, Calif. Seven years ago, Ms. Ellison rode in the North American Young Rider Championships.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=5cb8eff0ec9d1c628de56894f71fe388