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YEAR IN FILM: Top 2010 doc The Two Escobars examines two sides of Colombian narco-soccer

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Star defender Andrés Escobar (left) and drug kingpin Pablo Escobar
IMAGES COURTESY OF THE SAN FRANCISCO FILM SOCIETY

If you weren't among the millions who watched The Two Escobars' repeat showings on ESPN (or caught it at the Sundance Kabuki as part of the San Francisco Film Society's "SFFS Screen" programming), here's a crash course in narco-soccer, as explained by the movie: during the '80s and '90s, Colombian drug lords invested in soccer teams as a way to launder their ill-gotten gains. As teams' coffers grew, so did their ability to hire top-notch players. Sides flush with dirty cash racked up victories and corruption behind the scenes grew to outlandish proportions. Referees could easily be bought — or eliminated. A huge soccer fan who'd risen from poverty, then used his wealth to build fields in the slums, Pablo was one of these investors. Andrés, of course, was one of the league's stars.

Using no narrator, The Two Escobars instead weaves its account with contemporary interviews (the exhaustive list of talking heads includes soccer legends, jailed gangsters, coaches, cops, and the sisters of both Escobars) and expertly edited archival footage that enables the viewer to witness just about everything discussed: the might of Colombia's national team in the run-up to the 1994 World Cup; the sight of Pablo enjoying soccer on both his palatial estate and, incredibly, while incarcerated; the horrific violence that became an everyday occurrence during Pablo's war on Colombia's government.

Obtaining these hours of interviews and footage — only a fraction of which made it into the final cut — posed various challenges. "[Subjects] were reluctant to talk for many reasons: it's taboo; it's often felt to be dangerous still," Jeff says. "So there is fear. And also, it is traumatic to go back and visit those emotions. A lot of people would rather bottle that up. I'm not one to judge because I didn't live during the reign of Pablo Escobar and [anti-Escobar vigilante group] Los Pepes in Colombia. But I do believe that expressing that stuff and getting it out can be cathartic."

Culling the archival footage used in The Two Escobars took months of plowing through broadcast vaults, the private archives of both Escobars, and films shot by military police and amateur videographers. "We knew it wasn't gonna be as powerful a film, as accessible a film, if we just rooted it in present-day talking head interviews," Jeff says. "We needed to transport the viewer back into that time period. A lot of our decision to tell both the narratives of Pablo and Andrés, and make it bigger than just the ESPN assignment, to make it a theatrical movie, was hanging on whether or not we were able to find enough compelling visuals to create real scenes. We had myself, my brother, and a team of people just going through tapes."

Editing was a monumental task, proving both labor-intensive and emotionally trying. "It was very difficult to whittle down the story," Michael says. "At one point, we had a film that was sort of focused on being the first exposé of this secret world of narco-soccer. We had hours of anecdotes that really blew our minds. We ended up reducing that whole part of the story to what you could call act one of the movie, and that was certainly difficult. You're just sorry to see things go."

Though The Two Escobars screened worldwide, not just on ESPN but at the Tribeca and Cannes film festivals, one place it hasn't been seen is, ironically, Colombia. Due to the sensitive subject matter, and objections to the final product by Andrés Escobar's family — who didn't appreciate being associated with Pablo Escobar — "it's been completely censored," Jeff says, noting that he and his brother did not intend to mislead anyone during the filming.

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