Two Rivers Media and Salon Pictures are producing  Killing Escobar, a new theatrical documentary.

For the feature-length film, the team secured exclusive access to the story of Peter McAleese, the Scottish mercenary and ex-SAS operative who was hired by a Colombian drug cartel to assassinate the world’s biggest drug baron, Pablo Escobar.

The film has been commissioned by BBC Scotland and received major production investment from Abacus Media Rights, who hold international distribution rights, and The National Lottery through Screen Scotland. Directed by award-winning filmmaker David Whitney, it will receive its world premiere at Glasgow Film Festival on 7 March, and its UK television premiere on the BBC Scotland channel later this year.

Killing Escobar – told in McAleese’s own words and featuring never-before-seen footage of his Colombian mission – reveals how McAleese’s violent upbringing in Glasgow, his training in the SAS and experience as a mercenary in Africa led him to take on this seemingly suicidal assignment.

Mick McAvoy, Head of Factual, Two Rivers Media, says: “At Two Rivers Media, we pride ourselves on bringing remarkable stories, told by the people who were at the centre of the action, to the screen.  This film tells the unlikely tale of how a man from the East End of Glasgow was asked to bring-together a team of ex-special forces operatives to travel to the very heart of the criminal empire of the world’s most dangerous man in order to assassinate him.  With no voiceover and by just using revealing interviews with Peter McAleese, some members of his team and even Escobar’s bodyguard, this film lets the people at the heart of the story give a unique and terrifying perspective into the murky world of mercenaries, cocaine wars and shows how violence can shape peoples’ lives. The Two Rivers’ team have an outstanding track record in human interest storytelling and we are extremely proud of what has been achieved with this film.”

Nick Taussig, Founder and Managing Director, Salon Pictures, comments: “When David first brought this film to us, we were determined to make it, as, beyond the compelling narrative of a small band of mercenaries trying to take down Pablo Escobar, was the great human story of an old soldier’s final reckoning with himself.  David had the track record and pedigree to take this story on, and what a creative tour de force it has turned out to be.”

David Whitney, Director, Killing Escobar, adds: “From the moment I first met Peter McAleese, I wanted to tell his story.  I feel incredibly fortunate that he entrusted me to make the film.  The wealth of personal video archive and level of access we were able to obtain is the stuff of dreams for any filmmaker.  When my editor and I sat and watched the footage that the men had filmed of their mission we were amazed by the breadth and quality; it was a goldmine! It’s been a long, difficult journey to get Killing Escobar to the screen, but I hope audiences will be as thrilled by this incredible true story as I was.”

Killing Escobar (1 x 90 mins) also contains intimate archive from McAleese’s life as well as interviews with other key participants in the story, such as: fellow mercenary Dave Tomkins; DEA officers Javier Pena and Steve Murphy (the subjects of Netflix’s hit series Narcos); and McAleese’s Cali Cartel liaison Jorge Salcedo (whose experiences in Colombia also inspired the Netflix series). The film also explores McAleese’s extreme and often violent career, spanning 30 years of combat in the British SAS and as a mercenary on the battlefields of Africa. On the home-front, his personal life was equally chaotic with failed marriages, hard-drinking and a string of convictions.  In 1989, just when he thought his fighting days were behind him, he was asked to take on a deadly mission that would provide the greatest challenge of his career.  The infamous drug gang, the Cali Cartel, wanted him to lead a crack unit of British mercenaries to wipe out their arch enemy, Pablo Escobar, in the one place he thought he was safe: Hacienda Napoles, his heavily-guarded luxury retreat near Medellin. Killing Escobar reveals how this mission would reshape McAleese’s life forever.

Jonathan Ford, Managing Director, Abacus Media Rights, says: “This is a gripping documentary film which we are extremely pleased to be part of.  Having previously worked with both Two Rivers and Salon Pictures before, we know that their special blend of high production values and in-depth research will deliver an exceptional feature documentary. We can’t wait to introduce what promises to be a fascinating telling of the Escobar story from a unique and first-hand perspective to our clients around the world.”

Tony Nellany, BBC Scotland Channel Manager & Commissioning Executive, adds: “Killing Escobar underpins the aim of the BBC Scotland channel to reflect not only Scotland to itself, but also the wider world to our audiences.  This is an international story with strong links to Scotland and we’re delighted to work with industry partners, including Screen Scotland, to bring such a bold and ambitious production to both cinema and television screens.  It has strong storytelling and a unique Scottish protagonist at its heart and will receive its UK television premier later this year on the BBC Scotland channel.”

Dani Carlaw, Screen Scotland’s Head of Unscripted, says: “It is fantastic to be supporting Killing Escobar, an edge-of-your-seat portrait of the extraordinary life of Peter McAleese, told with great depth and astonishing archive.  Screen Scotland is also delighted that this film represents Two Rivers Media’s first completed theatrical feature documentary, a co-production with Salon Pictures.  Glasgow Film Festival programme is always packed full of the highest quality films and premieres. It is a fitting platform for this film’s first outing.”

Killing Escobar will receive its world premiere at Glasgow Film Festival at 4.15pm on 7 March. It is co-produced by Two Rivers Media and Salon Pictures.  Commissioned by BBC Scotland, it has received major production investment from Abacus Media Rights and Screen Scotland.  At BBC Scotland, the Commissioning Editor is Tony Nellany.  Killing Escobar is directed by David Whitney; the Director of Photography is Julian Schwanitz; the Head of Production is Lucy Austen; Head of Legal is Ross Cowan; the Location AP is Kelly Machin; and the Executive Producers are Alan Clements and Mick McAvoy for Two Rivers Media, and Nick Taussig for Salon Pictures.  Killing Escobar is distributed internationally by Abacus Media Rights.

Jon Creamer

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