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First Look: ‘Pele’ Biopic Shoots in Brazil (EXCLUSIVE)

Brazilian Edson Arantes do Nascimento — better known to the world as Pele — scored 1,283 goals in his career and is the only player who was on teams that won the World Cup three times. He also stopped a civil war in Belgian Congo in 1969 as the combatants wanted to watch him play, and during the 1966 World Cup in England got a phone call from the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein offering an exclusive Beatles’ performance for the Brazilian team. He was politely refused.

The story of the poor Brazilian kid from the Tres Coracoes hamlet who became the King of Soccer and a global legend will finally be told in an English-language feature for the world market in “Pele.” The biopic will focus on Pele’s rise from a young boy to his first World Cup victory in 1958.

But the film is a U.S. production from Imagine Entertainment and Seine Pictures, with Rio de Janeiro city film agency RioFilme a co-producer; it invested $1 million in the production. Exclusive Media is handling international sales. It’s helmed by brothers Michael Zimbalist and Jeff Zimbalist, who are not new to Latin America, having helmed and produced the Emmy-nominated “The Two Escobars”; Jeff Zimbalist had lived in Rio, where he co-helmed doc “Favela Rising.”

They are aiming to open the pic right before the FIFA World Cup in Brazil next year. The tournament kicks off June 12 and runs through July 13.

“Pele” began lensing in and around Rio Sept. 30 and is expected to wrap this month. The cast includes both Brazilian amateur and pro actors, comprising most of the soccer players’ roles, and international thesps, such as Vincent D’Onofrio, who portrays Brazilian team head coach Vicente Feola, and Diego Boneta as player Mazzola.

Amateur actors Kevin de Paula, a Brazilian soccer player, will play Pele from age 13-17, while Leonardo Lima Carvalho will play him at age 10.

At age 15 Pele turned pro and just 10 months later was drafted for the national team. At 17, Pele played for Brazil in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. Pele led the team to victory over the host country, scoring two goals in Brazil’s 5-2 win.

The Zimbalist brothers said they opted to concentrate on Pele’s early life for dramatic reasons: “It was the birth of the legend that parallels the birth of the Brazilian national identity, coming off the 1950 (World Cup) loss (to Uruguay) in Maracana stadium,” Michael Zimbalist told Variety on the film set.

“Pele” is centered on the relationship between the soccer great and his father, Joao Ramos do Nascimento, known as Dondinho, a mediocre soccer player played in the pic by Brazilian actor and singer Seu Jorge.

“This is not just a soccer movie. This is a story about a boy who followed his passion and dream, and whose talent went on to change the world. It is a father/son story, about believing in yourself, teamwork and overcoming challenges. It is the story of the Brazilian people, their unique spirit, and the origins of their rise to becoming a soccer superpower,” producer Ivan Orlic told Variety.

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