Few things are more prickly and complicated than the relationships between sons and fathers. Just ask Michael Douglas, who spent many troubled years trying to carve out any kind of satisfying kinship with Kirk Douglas, his emotionally distant father. Many political observers believe that part of the impetus for George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq came from a deep-seated desire to set himself apart from the kind of failures that marked his father's, George H.W. Bush, one-term presidency.
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"Sins of My Father": The Big Picture column in Tuesday's Calendar section, in describing the current life of Sebastian Marroquin, the subject of the documentary "Sins of My Father," said it had been 15 years since the death of his father, Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. It has been 16 years. —
But when it comes to difficult fathers, few men have endured the kind of emotional burden carried by Sebastian Marroquin, the son of the notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, whose illicit empire was so vast that he was once estimated to be worth around $25 billion, his cartel controlling the majority of the global cocaine trade. Now living in Argentina where he has established a new identity (he fled Colombia after his father was gunned down by authorities in 1993), Marroquin is the subject of "Sins of My Father," a fascinating documentary that premieres Friday night at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City. (The film will air this year on HBO.)
A host of Hollywood filmmakers has long been fascinated by the Escobar saga, with several projects, in particular "Killing Pablo," having been close to a greenlight for years. (A fictional movie project about Escobar was the focus of a prominent subplot in the third season of "Entourage.") But what Argentine filmmaker Nicolas Entel does with the Escobar legend is very different. Though we see the murder and mayhem of Escobar through archival footage, Entel focuses on the life of his son Marroquin and his attempts to come to grips with all of the hideous karmic wreckage inflicted by his malevolent father. It is really a story about a more universal subject -- the difficulty of reconciliation in a world where the desire for revenge, especially in countries racked by ethnic and religious strife, is almost an everyday occurrence.
It was already something of an amazing feat for Entel, who divides his time between Buenos Aires and Brooklyn, where he has a company that produces commercials and music videos, to get Marroquin to agree to speak on camera. Even 15 years after his father's death, Marroquin, now an architect in Buenos Aires, has shied away from the media spotlight. In fact, he still uses the kind of security precautions worthy of a minor mob figure, never, for example, allowing taxis to pick him up at his house to ensure that as few people as possible know where he lives.
He had never been back to Colombia, which remains outraged over his father's legacy of violence and bloodshed. As we see in the film, when a few brave 1980s-era politicians spoke out against Escobar -- notably a crusading minister of justice named Rodrigo Lara Bonilla and a fiery presidential candidate named Luis Carlos Galan -- they were brutally murdered by Escobar's cronies to protect him from prosecution.
So Entel decided to broaden his story. He went to Colombia, where he not only interviewed the sons of the murdered politicians but somehow persuaded them to meet with Marroquin for the first time since his father's death. "It was a crazy idea," he admits. "It would almost be like having the idea to get Hitler's son together with the sons of some of his father's concentration camp victims." The results of the meetings are startlingly poignant, but what fascinated me the most was how a largely unknown filmmaker managed to pull off such a dramatic, emotionally loaded rapprochement, especially considering that the three sons of Galan are now well-known political figures in Colombia themselves.
Gaining his trust
The easiest part was finding Marroquin, whose cover had been blown in 2001 when his accountant attempted to blackmail him and his mother, Escobar's widow. The extortion attempt briefly made news, but Marroquin had remained silent, turning down dozens upon dozens of media offers to tell his story. However, Entel had a quirky connection -- Marroquin's wife had been a student of the filmmaker's mother, a sociology professor in Buenos Aires.
"When we first met, I did something very Argentine -- I sat down and had lots of long conversations with Sebastian over coffee," Entel told me the other day. "He'd turned everyone else down, but maybe because of all the research I had done, maybe because we're about the same age, he felt that I was someone who wanted to tell his story, not just exploit him as a way to tell his father's story. It wasn't simple. He even made me write an essay saying why I wanted to do this film."