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‘It’s a story about sports, immigration, and activism all in one.’

SEC Network's SEC Storied returns tonight with the saga of former University of Florida star receiver Carlos Alvarez, a Cuban American who also became known for his social stands as a student

ESPN Films debuts the first SEC Storied documentary of the new season with “The All-American Cuban Comet” (tonight, 8:30 ET, SEC Network), the saga of College Football Hall of Famer Carlos Alvarez.

An immigrant from Cuba who became a University of Florida football star and social activist in the 1960s and ’70s, Alvarez’s story resonates today.

Front Row caught up with producer Scott Siebers to learn more about the film.

Carlos Alvarez set University of Florida receiving records that still stand nearly 50 years later.

What is the latest with the SEC Storied documentary series?
In 2011, we launched the series under the direction of executive producer John Dahl with a film on [University of Georgia Heisman Trophy winner] Herschel Walker. Nine years and some 40 documentaries later, following the rollout last fall of the 8-part/12-hour documentary Saturdays in the South: A History of SEC Football as part of College Football 150 as well, we’re back with six films covering a diverse array of sports that will debut over the course of the next 12 months. Featuring a new graphics package designed by our ESPN Creative Services team, along with fresh theme music from composer Brian Keane, our first documentary from this new season is “The All-American Cuban Comet” on Alvarez.

It’s a story about sports, immigration, and activism all in one. And Carlos’ journey is more relevant than ever when you consider the wave of social activism that has swept our country this past year.
– ESPN producer Scott Siebers on Carlos Alvarez and “The All-American Cuban Comet”

Why Carlos Alvarez?
We were inspired by Carlos’ story on and off the field. When he was 10 years old, he and his family left Fidel Castro’s Cuba for America, and then he pursued football because he felt it was the ultimate American sport. He was named a first team All-American wide receiver in his first varsity season at Florida, and went on to set the school record for receiving yards that still stands to this day. When director Gaspar González and producer Castor Fernandez pitched the story to us ,almost two years ago, we were immediately attracted to the multiple layers it offered. It’s a story about sports, immigration, and activism all in one. And Carlos’ journey is more relevant than ever when you consider the wave of social activism that has swept our country this past year.

How did COVID-19 impact the filmmaking process? And how did innovation and teamwork provide solutions?
González and Fernandez, fortunately, began shooting several months before the pandemic hit, starting with a 50th anniversary reunion last fall of Florida’s Gator Bowl-winning team of 1969. By the time coronavirus restrictions hit, they had shot all original material and interviews except for Doug Dickey, who was the head coach at Florida for Carlos’ final two years there.
But they were able to interview him safely and responsibly late this summer at his home – actually shooting through an open door with the crew in one room and the subject in another. As the documentary was being put together, González was in Miami, and Fernandez was in Atlanta while their editors were in Los Angeles.

Sources for archival material were initially shut down but reopened in time to provide key material. Meanwhile, we did our part working with them from our homes in Connecticut. Associate producer Spencer Barry built a makeshift edit suite in his bedroom to handle all kinds of content editing and processing needs. Production assistants Alexandria Cooper and Kurt Borgman innovated new workflows to research, screen, and access archival footage for the filmmakers.

The team at ESPN’s Media Assets Center was extremely helpful in collaborating on this process, which requires a lot of digitizing and media management. And interaction with SEC Network programming, marketing, communications, and studio production has been fantastic, with a lot of support and enthusiasm for the series.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Alvarez spoke with ESPN to discuss his story, his activism and the state of athlete empowerment ahead of the debut.

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