Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cocaine+Futbol+World Cup=Great Documentary

If the equation above confuses you, or pops up on your screen when your boss is looking over your shoulder, apologies. But bear with me here. First off, I'm back and props to my comrade Gringo Juan for holding it down while I was off gallivanting through the woods. I also got to catch up on some reading and watching, the reading recommendation is still a few days off, but let's get to the movie recommendation: "Two Escobars".

It's a documentary by Jeff and Michael Zimbalist which aired as part of ESPN's 30 for 30 series. I know, ESPN, not exactly who you would turn to for your documentary needs, but this one is well worth the time.

It traces the rise of Pablo Escobar and Colombian futbol (and star player Andres Escobar, the only Colombian ever to be offered a spot on Inter Milan). Everyone knows Pablo, but not everyone knows he was a futbol fanatic and also played a huge role in the barrios in Colombia, especially Medellin. In his more formative years, he donated soccer fields in poor neighborhoods throughout the country, but even in his later years the passion for soccer never left him. Colombia was far from a soccer powerhouse and much of the top talent often left for bigger money and more fame overseas in Europe....until the cocaine cash started to flow, that is.

All of a sudden not only could club teams keep the top talent, but players from all over the region were coming to play in Colombia. Turns out a soccer organization is a really good way to launder money, ticket sales being in cash and all. Every drug lord had a team, or two. Pablo was no exception, and the other Escobar, Andres was quickly rising to the top of his profession.

Colombia became one of the favorites to win the 1994 World Cup, and as violence raged at home, the national soccer team became the Colombian government's best PR tool. The team was a way to show the world that Colombia was not just about violence and to give Colombians an escape from the everyday hardships. But, just as Pablo's notorious run came to a crashing halt, so did Colombian soccer.

I really don't want to give much more away, it's a tragic and fascinating story, and incredibly informative to boot (not bad for an ESPN docu). As much as the story can carry the movie on its own, the historic footage is really the icing on the cake. Colombia, in their bright jerseys, played some beautiful futbol back in the day and they've got the footage to prove it. As an example of some of the team's flair, here's a clip that you may have seen before, Colombian goalie Rene Higuita's infamous scorpion kick:

Damn. Unfortunately, Higuita was not on the team for the '94 World Cup, for reasons that you will find out when you watch the movie. Not only is there amazing footage of the national team, but also of the brutally deadly drug war, including some footage of Pablo that is really stunning. Pieced together with interviews with such characters as Pablo's right hand man (in jail for murder) and his cousin, it makes for a must watch. It doesn't paper over the massive atrocities that Pablo is responsible for, but neither does it just give you one side of the story. Footage from his funeral shows the thousands and thousands of grieving Colombians, mostly from the barrios, who had lost one of the only men who had truly provided for them. Nor does it overlook the heavy hand of Carlos Castano and Los Pepes (later of AUC paramilitary fame), and their support from El Norte. Perhaps, since its a sports network, the political considerations don't weigh as heavily, but good for ESPN for airing this informative, entertaining, and deeply tragic documentary.

Here is a 5 minute introduction to the movie, and below, the upcoming schedule for when it will be on ESPN, ESPN deportes, and ESPN classic.

Saturday June 26, 10PM ESPN Classic, Friday July 2, 1am ESPN 2, Sunday July 4, 1pm ESPN 2. Check your local listing, all times EST.

For the record, I was not paid to shill for this movie, it just kicks ass.

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