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Tribeca ’10 | “The Two Escobars” Directors Kick It in Columbia

Tribeca '10 | "The Two Escobars" Directors Kick It in Columbia

As part of Tribceca’s World Documentary Feature Competition, filmmakers Jeff and Michael Zimbalist will present the world premiere of their documentary “The Two Escobars.”

Born in the same city in Colombia but not related, Andrés Escobar and Pablo Escobar shared a fanatical love of soccer. Andrés grew up to become one of Colombia’s most beloved players, while Pablo became the most notorious drug baron of all time. As Pablo’s criminal success accelerated, his personal interest in (and financial support of) soccer became mirrored in a broader cultural fervor. The Colombian national soccer team rose to unprecedented glory, ultimately coming to a head when Andrés’ shocking mistake in the 1994 World Cup lost his team the title, and lost his nation the chance to redeem its international image.

Mobilizing an encyclopedic arsenal of archival footage, Michael Zimbalist and Jeff Zimbalist (“Favela Rising,” TFF ’05) paint a portrait of a culture so invested in and defined by its sports team that one high-stakes mistake on the field could shatter its national identity, and ultimately cost a man his life. While adeptly investigating the intersections of crime, sports, and nationalism, the Zimbalists reveal the surprising connections between the murders of Andrés and Pablo Escobar.

“The Two Escobars”
World Documentary Feature Competition
Director: Jeff Zimbalist, Michael Zimbalist
Screenwriter: Jeff Zimbalist, Michael Zimbalist
Editor: Jeff Zimbalist, Greg O’Toole
Director of Photography: Jeff Zimbalist
100 min., U.S.

[Editor’s Note: This is one interview in a series profiling directors whose films are screening at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.]

Directors Jeff and Michael Zimbalist on their projects up till now and why they felt compelled to make “The Two Escobars”…

Our films tend to focus on disenfranchised communities in the process of rising up and transforming their political and economic circumstances. With “Favela Rising,” Jeff looked beyond the dominant images of violence that defined media coverage of Brazil’s shantytowns and found a sustainable model of hope. Winning over 35 international film festivals, including the International Documentary Association’s film of the year and best new director at the Tribeca Film Festival, “Favela Rising”‘s critical success was not only a testament to the powerful narrative of the AfroReggae cultural movement, but also proof that audiences want to engage with positive stories of change. We’ve noticed this pattern in our subsequent projects, as well, receiving overwhelming support for a story of the first Peace Community in Latin America with our based-on-real events fiction screenplay for “The Scribe of Uriba” – which will star Oscar nominated Viola Davis and Goya winner Ivana Baquero. We choose these stories due to the scale of their historic importance. To us this is where societies are shaped.

By comparison, sports have often felt like mere diversion, games limited to the playing field. At times, we have both drifted from the passion for sports we shared as young athletes and fans, engaging ourselves in other endeavors as seasons of professional competition passed by.

Then, invariably, definitive moments in sports history would grab our attention and turn our logic upside down. Like in 1994, when an athlete named Andrés Escobar was murdered for accidentally scoring an own-goal that cost the Colombian National Team a chance at winning the World Cup and transforming its negative image on the international stage. Here was a country with a national identity so integrally connected to the success of its soccer team that one mistake on a playing field dashed the pride of an entire nation and cost a man his life.

Looking into the incident, we learned that the dramatic rise and fall of Colombian soccer was inextricably tied to the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Drug Cartel, considered by many the ‘ruling party’ of Colombia at the time. Sport in Colombia was not only mirroring the personality and politics of society, but also an inseparable part of that society – the playing field an extension of the streets and offices where influential decisions are made.

The two on their experience making the film…

Production was a ride; a constant onslaught of danger and inspiration, and usually both at the same, much like the country of Colombia itself. Our past work had familiarized us with the delicate security situation when investigating crime and corruption, and we prioritized the long-term safety of our subjects as they revealed often incriminating information for the first time on camera. In the edit, we decided to omit entire interviewees because of the compromising content of their testimony.

As we dug through hundreds of hours of never-before-seen archives, including the personal archives of Pablo Escobar’s family. We were introduced to the persuasive passions of both those who saw Pablo as the devil as well as those who saw him as an angel. For reasons of journalistic integrity and in order to preserve the rich contradictions of the true story, we set out to represent both critical and sympathetic perceptions. Ultimately, we always reminded ourselves that while “The Two Escobars” is the first expose of the little known phenomenon of “narco-soccer,” it cannot serve only to extend the popular portrayal of Colombia as a place where things are only falling apart, but it must also show a place making impressive strides in coming together and blazing an innovative path into a brighter future.

On our filmmaking journey through diverse walks of Colombian society, it became clear that this was far from a classic “deal-with-the-devil” narrative. Rather, this was the story of the passions and dreams of a people intrinsically tied to the rise and fall of a team of unlikely warriors.

Stories such as this revive our childhood fascination with sports and confirm the fundamental role they play in shaping our world.

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