On June 27, 1994, the bodies of a nightclub owner and two dancers were found shot dead in Miramar, Florida. Pablo Ibar, a Spanish-American of Cuban descent was arrested on the basis of a blurry VHS tape, which showed the face of one of the assailants.
Despite a lack of conclusive evidence, in 2000, Ibar was convicted of triple homicide and sentenced to death. His story is now brought to the screen by Movistar Plus, Studiocanal and Bambu Producciones, in “On Death Row,” a four-part miniseries that is a Mipcom Market Screening.
The series, created by Bambu’s Ramon Campos and Gema R. Niera, and based on the non-fiction book of the same title by Spanish journalist Nacho Carretero and research by Olmo Figuredo at Spanish production house La Claqueta, the series charts Ibar’s legal battle to prove his innocence and the support of his family, which has never given up on him.
La Claqueta is also developing a documentary series on Ibar.
The series does not shy away from the suggestion that Ibar’s conviction is tainted by racial prejudice. Every episode begins with a fragment of a presidential speech, from Clinton to Trump, as a reminder that this is not an isolated case but part of a bigger political picture. Early scenes sketch in Ibar’s life as part of the Spanish and Cuban community in Florida.
“On Death Row” marks a new drive by Movistar Plus into fact-based series, which includes not only “On Death Row” but two upcoming docuseries: “ETA – El final del silencio,” about the aftermath of the dissolution of the Spanish Basque separatist group; and “El Palmar de Troya,” about a scandal-laden Seville Catholic Church with its own pope. It’s also bought Justin Webster’s six-hour “The Prosecutor, the President and the Spy,” about the suicide – or murder? – of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman.
“We felt that we were missing an opportunity. Some people talk about ‘true crime,’ or factual. For us, it’s about trying to look at real stories that are highly interesting, approaching them with high-quality standards,” says Movistar Plus president Sergio Oslé.
In other ways, “On Death Row” is classic Movistar Plus. The partners brought in a film director, Carlos Marqués-Marcet, whose debut feature was the festival hit “10.000.” The director relies heavily on improvisation and the work of DP Jacobo Martínez, a close collaborator of Bambú Producciones.
“There are two types of stories: Ones that call for refined, beautiful visuals, such as [Bambu-produced] ‘Velvet,’ and those that have a social commitment, where beauty has to disappear,” says Campos. In “On Death Row,” he adds, “No one can say that we’re embellishing somebody’s suffering.”
“On Death Row’s” own take on Ibar’s case very clear. “We believe in Pablo’s innocence. To me it seemed unethical to leave open the possibility for the viewer to think that he’s not,” says Campos.
Sentencing someone to death “without substantial evidence seems very hazardous to me. The existence of such a judicial system inspires me with fear,” adds Miguel Angel Silvestre, who portrays Ibar’s long evolution from reckless teen to mature adult.
One of the guiding principles of Studiocanal, which holds a minority stake in Bambu, is “to tell stories which can only be told out of Europe,” says Campos. He adds: “It’s the only way to stand up to big U.S. companies. Through Domingo Corral, Movistar Plus shares that philosophy: That you can tell European, local stories which reach the world.”
“On Death Row” is the second Studiocanal-Movistar Plus series, after “Instinct,” a MipTV Market Screening. As Telefonica steps up its production capacity, expect this alliance to grow.
John Hopewell contributed to this article.