Is this the biggest Latin American series of 2021? Released Oct. 11, Amazon Prime Video’s official trailer for “Maradona: Blessed Dream” has notched up 13.825 million views on YouTube.
That’s down on the 37 million for Netflix’s “Squid Game,” but way up on the 5.4 million for “Bridgerton” and 4.7 million for “Money Heist” Part 4.
Bowing Oct. 28 on Argentina’s Canal 9, a niche free-to-air channel where it scored its biggest ratings since 2015, the fiction series – “inspired by true facts, with some elements created for dramatization,” its initial disclaimer reads – went global on Oct. 29 airing in 240 countries on Amazon Prime Video, which released the first five episodes of a 10-part first season.
This is a massive enterprise: Filmed on 154 shoot days over 10 months in five countries and on 100 locations with a cast of 360, 1,664 extras and a 543 person crew. The three actors portraying Maradona – as just a kid, at his height and older, bloated by excess – required 300 costume changes.
But it’s not a plodding womb-to-tomb replay of Maradona’s greatest hits, such as winning the World Cup in 1986.
Rather, it’s an attempt to get at what really made Maradona tick. Multiple grounded explanations are offered as early as Episode One, which begins, notably, with Maradona, aged 40, in 2000, over weight and out of breath, lumbering up a sand-dune at Uruguay’s Punta del Este seaside resort. “Where’s my Pelusa?” he asks himself, before collapsing from a drug overdose.
“Pelusa” was his nickname when he was a kid, growing up in the shanty town of Fiorito outside Buenos Aires, a grin on his face and a ball always at his feet.
Providing the climax to Episode One, the first thing Maradona did when he became the youngest player in the history of Argentina’s First Division, debuting for Argentinos Juniors 10 days before his sixteenth birthday in 1976, was to move his family into a spacious middle-class home that had running water.
Family for him was, and was to remain, sacrosanct. Episode one ends with a young Diego, playing reportedly the best soccer of his life, meeting the girl next door at his home, Claudia, who was to become his wife.
The emotional base of his life is set out from the series’ get go. Whether it was enough to equip Maradona for a life where he would be hailed as a genius more most probably than any other person in modern history is a moot question.
Edited at a whiplash speed, the credit crawl doc footage collage sounds another psychological keynote of a life lived in the fast lane at incredible speed and under too great a pressure for anyone to bear.
“Maradona.. Blessed Dream” packs impecable writing credentials, being showrun by BTF Media’s Alejandro Aimetta, who wrote and directed episodes of Disney’s breakthrough bios “Until I Met You” and “Selena’s Secret,” both also made by BTF Media. Guillermo Salmerón, a lead writer with Adrian Israel Caetano on “El Marginal,” and Silvina Olschansky, a writer on the same series, serve as writers on “Maradona.”
One of Latin America’s fastest-growing independent companies, BTF Media, produces with Dhama Media and Latin We, co-founded by Sofía Vergara. Variety chatted to BTF Media partners Francisco Cordero and Ricardo Coeto as they arrived in Buenos Aires for the premiere of the series on Oct. 28.
In what looks like a declaration of intentions, “Maradona: Blessed Dream” begins not with Maradona at his pinnacle, kissing the World Cup, but at a near all-time low, a physical parody collapsing from drug overdose in 2000, and yearning to return to simpler times as a child when he was just “La Pelusa….”
Cordero: From our first biopic, “Until I Met You,” about Juan Gabriel, we’ve tied to get at the person behind the legend. Here it’s a person who starts out with his feet in the mud of Villa Fiorito, and a ball always at his feet, who gets his lucky break thanks to a friend. We wanted to get at Maradona’s values, what made him: Family, friendship, confidence and a drive to realize his dreams.
There’s an early scene in Episode One which catches Diego for the first time at the market in Fiorito, a labyrinth of stalls with dainty sun-shades, barrels, butane containers and bottles. The scene is shot with depth of field and only only lasts some seconds but suggests your hallmark high production values….
Cordero: Companies’ confidence in our production values has been key to our success. There’s a huge and very professional work and large research which helped our art department and director go beyond constructing sets to create an ambience which is reflected in the emotion of Episode One and throughout the series. Everybody gave their utmost to make the best product possible, the biggest biopic made to date in the Spanish-speaking world.
The quick-fire doc collage initial credits also makes a psychological point, of the vertiginous life lived by Maradona. You bookend the episode with further doc footage at the episode’s end which gives a sense of closure to what feels like a film…
Cueto: That’s an important point. Every episode’s told as if it was a film. Beyond the season’s dramatic arcs, each episode depicts different moments in Maradona’s life and the footage transports the spectator to them.
There’s also a signature BTF Media attempt to provide a political and historical context to the story. Maradona’s status as Argentina’s savior and near God is as much a product of the time and country as Maradona himself…
Cordero: Argentina’s history at that moment is fundamental for the dramatic arc which Ricardo mentioned.
There’s a crucial scene for me where a 15 year-old Maradona is on a bus with his dad going back to Fiorito when it’s stopped by soldiers. Maradona hasn’t got an ID card but he takes out a ball, performs some tricks and the soldiers let him go…
Coeto: The scene sketches very well that few countries on earth live soccer like Argentina. In Argentina, talking about soccer is to talk about patria, Argentina itself, its guts. That’s what made Maradona the god he is there.
“Maradona: Blessed Dream” looks like a milestone for BTF Media, Could you talk about any other big project which is coming up fast?
Cueto: We are currently working in at least five more projects, in different stages from development to production. One of them is another biopic that we’re making for Disney, “Centauro del Norte,” about the life of Pancho Villa. He’s a Mexican Revolution figure who has everything, controversy, a hero, an anti-hero, a villain. The series’ will cause a lot of controversy because of its focus. It’s a historical action series about the Mexican Revolution, something that’s never been done before showing a Pancho Villa that’s never been seen before. And more recently, we announced a 10-episode comedy named “Mascara contra Caballero,” also for Star Plus.
And feature films?
Cordero: On the feature films side, we’ve developed five films back-to-back and are now shooting one in Baja California, Tijuana, a big and highly interesting film, starring Omar Chaparro. But that’s another story.
You’ve just announced the joint creation with Spain’s Secuoya Studios of the Micelio Media Group, merging the two companies’ content businesses. Is this to scale up, gaining more muscle when negotiating with major distribution players?
Cordero: That’s the idea, though we already have volume deals with several of the platforms. The partnership with Secuoya is an open door for other players in the region, and part of our dream, of trying to be the most relevant of companies and the most important ally of the players in the Spanish-language space.