Pablo Escobar's Son Tells His Story

What's most striking at first is the resemblance: a beefy frame and puffy cheeks. Deep-set black eyes. A double chin. In fact, if Sebastián Marroquín grew a mustache, he would be the spitting image of the most famous drug dealer in history: his father, Pablo Escobar. I met Marroquín—he changed his name from Juan Pablo Escobar after he fled Colombia following his father's death—in Buenos Aires minutes before a private screening of Pecados de Mi Padre (Sins of My Father), a documentary that traces his journey of reconciliation with the sons of some of Escobar's most famous victims. It was the first time anyone—including Marroquín and director Nicolas Entel—would see the final cut of the film onscreen before its premiere last week at Argentina's Mar del Plata International Film Festival. Sitting beside Marroquín in the empty theater, I could sense his apprehension. After spending the past 16 years trying to distance himself from his father's brutal legacy, he was about to bring it all back into public view. "I am more uncertain than fearful after making this film," he says as the lights dim. "But I am optimistic that people will understand why we made it." (Article continued below...)

He's got quite a story to tell. After Pablo Escobar died in a hail of bullets in Medellín in 1993, 16-year-old Juan Pablo Escobar fled with his mother and sister to Ecuador, beginning a long journey of resettlement that brought them all over South America and Africa, and ultimately to Argentina, where he changed his name and became an architect. Now that the international media frenzy has begun, Marroquín knows his life of anonymity is over. In Colombia, the film's release on Dec. 10 is expected to be a watershed cultural event; 30 prints have been ordered, unprecedented for a documentary. "I don't think anyone can prepare for something like this," says Marroquín. "My only conviction is for this film to be a message of peace."

Dozens of filmmakers had approached Marroquín, 32, about telling his story. He declined, thinking they would only glorify and exploit his father's image. Then in 2005 he met Entel, who suggested a novel approach: bringing Marroquín together with the sons of the late Colombian justice minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla and the late presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán, both killed on orders from Escobar after confronting his cocaine cartel. "I was proposing to tell the story from the point of view of the sons, and Sebastián liked that," says Entel, 34. "What motivated me was that Sebastián, myself, and the sons of Lara and Galán are all around the same age. I felt we would find a way to connect because of our similar cultures, values, and experiences."

All 90 minutes of Sins of My Father are gripping. The film mixes never-seen-before home videos and photos of the Escobars with old news clips and new footage of Sebastián and his mother, Maria Isabel Santos. There are snapshots of tender family moments—Pablo and his young son at the White House and Disney World—mixed with images of the Escobars temporarily retreating to Panama and war-torn Nicaragua, and unsuccessfully seeking refuge in the U.S. and Germany in 1993. Together they provide a bleak narrative of Colombia's violence in the 1980s and '90s, as well as a poignant account of a conflicted young man whose existence was dictated by his father's ruthless ways. We hear the chilling intercepted phone call between father and son that led to the bloody shootout that killed Escobar. "I didn't think I would live to be 17," Marroquín says. "Since the day my father died, every hour that I've lived is a bonus."

Building to its theme, the film cuts between dimly lit shots of Marroquín and Rodrigo Lara Restrepo speaking stoically about their dead fathers. The two most riveting scenes occur when Marroquín meets Lara and then Galán's three sons, all four of whom have chosen to carry on their fathers' legacies and enter politics. Meeting secretly on an island in the Río de la Plata, Marroquín and Lara sit on a bench and have a frank but cordial talk. Marroquín notes that they are "both orphans." Lara thanks him for his "heartfelt" letter of apology. "We are both good and peaceful men. Let's move forward," Lara says as they embrace.

The meeting with Galán's sons is raw. Convening at a Bogotá hotel, Marroquín asks nervously for their forgiveness. While expressing gratitude, the brothers say they cannot forgive him for a sin he did not commit.

When the film ends, Marroquín rises from his chair and hugs Entel. "This is very emotional," he says, turning to me. "I hope the Colombian people understand it, and we can help stop the drug violence once and for all." At the very least, it may help people associate the Escobar name with something other than drugs.