Colombia TV network cancels Escobars documentary

Colombia TV network cancels Escobars documentary

Published Jul. 16, 2010 11:21 p.m. ET

A Colombian TV network on Friday announced its decision not to air a documentary about a Colombian soccer player murdered after accidentally scoring an own-goal in the 1994 World Cup.

The announcement came the same day the slain player's family held a news conference to say it was deceived by the U.S. makers of the film ''The Two Escobars'' - an accusation the filmmakers denied.

The family held a news conference in Medellin to complain that brothers Jeff and Michael Zimbalist never told the family they intended to pair the story of Andres Escobar with that of slain drug lord Pablo Escobar.

The two Escobars were unrelated but both hailed from Medellin, which in the early '90s was a hub of the cocaine trade and the world's most violent city when measured by its murder rate.


The slain athlete's brother Santiago Escobar told The Associated Press that the Zimbalist brothers ''deceived my family and also deceived the memory of Andres Escobar.''

He read a statement saying that relatives and friends of his brother ''feel assaulted in our good faith by the makers of this documentary, who sought our testimony to make a report in homage to the footballer.''

''They never told us that it would be parallel with the drug trafficker Pablo Escobar.''

The Zimbalist brothers, who wrote and directed the film, told the AP by telephone from the United States that the family's statement was a misrepresentation of their behavior as filmmakers.

They said they were open with the family and friends of Andres Escobar when they told them they wanted to tell the story of the ''gentleman of the soccer pitch'' in a context appropriate for an international audience.

Andres Escobar was outspoken in his rejection of the poisoning influence of drug money on the sport and the film sensitively reflects that, Michael Zimbalist said.

''We have a lot of respect for Andres Escobar and for his family and it's always been our intention to be as sensitive as possible,'' added Jeff Zimbalist. He said he and his brother ''don't pretend to have any idea how much pain and trauma they've been through.''

Pablo Escobar, a soccer aficionado who built playing fields in poor neighborhoods of Medellin, bought politicians while holding the Colombian state hostage as he used terror to fight extradition to the United States. He was killed by police in December 1993.

Andres Escobar, the 27-year-old national team captain, was killed the following July, just 10 days after the own-goal against the United States that eliminated Colombia from the tournament.

''Through the glory and the tragedy, 'The Two Escobars' daringly investigates the secret marriage of crime and sport, and uncovers the surprising connections between the murders of Andres and Pablo,'' says a description of the film on the website of ESPN, which broadcast it June 21 in the United States.

The Zimbalists, who grew up in Northampton, Mass. said ESPN holds international distribution rights to the film.

They said they did not know why the Colombian TV network RCN had decided not to broadcast the documentary on Sunday as scheduled.

Network spokeswoman Yolima Celis would not explain the decision but said it was made Friday morning. She said she did not know if the Escobar family had called RCN to complain beforehand, adding that negotiations with representatives of the filmmakers had not concluded and that the broadcast could have been canceled ''for both reasons.''

''The Two Escobars'' premiered earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

Michael Zimbalist said he and his brother had been in touch with Andres Escobar's sister Maria Ester, who appears in the film, in recent months over concerns the family expressed about it.

''Ultimately this wasn't a story about Andres Escobar and it wasn't a story about Pablo Escobar,'' he said. ''It was the story of the Colombian people during a slice of history and it was a universal tale.''