What happens when you’ve made a documentary about the search for an infamous drug lord — Public Enemy #1 — and the authorities capture him right after you
finish your film?
If you’re filmmakers Angus MacQueen and Guillermo Galdós, you quickly re-edit the documentary so that it’s up-to-date when it premieres at SXSW. That’s what happened when authorities captured notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán right after the filmmakers wrapped “The Legend of Shorty,” their documentary about infiltrating the Sinaloa Cartel in search of the elusive man.
Indiewire spoke with MacQueen and his producer Simon Chinn this week at SXSW about how they gained access to the cartel’s inner circle, the danger the directors faced during filming and how they altered the film following the breaking news about the drug lord’s arrest.
Why make this film?
MacQueen: I think it’s an incredibly important subject and there’s a moment where you can’t go on listening to all the lies. The whole issue of drugs just seems to be — from top to bottom — an obfuscation. Nobody is telling the truth and it just seemed a really good premise: most wanted man in the world. If two people can find him with the camera, do you genuinely believe that the American and Mexican authorities have been looking or him all along? Do you not conclude that they’ve known where he is all along and deals have been done — and now they’ve come to an end — or they’ve shifted?
Did you put your life in danger making the film?
MacQueen: There’s no
question there were moments of really quite serious danger… I’m
uncomfortable talking about it because there are a lot more people who are in a
lot more danger than we were. We were experienced. We had the tried and trusted
methods of journalism and filmmaking. You go in. You create relationships. You
decide those relationships are trustworthy and you move on.
Chinn: It was incredibly dangerous. Angus and Guillermo don’t like to talk about the danger, but it has to be said that it’s an entirely unprecedented enterprise to go and penetrate this forbidden world. No one has done it to the extent that these guys have done it.
What was your reaction when Guzmán was captured?
MacQueen: We left the film alone because
we were still in contact and not certain that he (El Chapo) wouldn’t let us come up and
wouldn’t do [the interview] finally. As Guillermo (Galdós) says in the last line of the movie, “they
got to him before he agreed to give us an interview.” It really felt like that…When we’re saying we found him. We found him. We knew where he was.
Of course, we had to close it down because we needed
deliverables for here [SXSW] so we spent all the money and two days later, the
bastards go and arrest him. Most importantly, it gives us a modern image of
him. There was a sort of unsatisfactory nature in the previous version in that one of the insanities of this project isn’t just that we were trying to find him but we were trying to make a film about someone on whom virtually no material existed and who
most of the planet is too frightened to open their mouth about. So quite
problematic starting point. And somehow, not having an image of him to satisfy
an audience that we found him and can provide you an image and suddenly, the
What was your initial response when you heard the news about his capture?
MacQueen: There was quite a lot of swearing going on. Then it dawned on us that
if you’re taking it outside of the film it didn’t change very much and if
you’re taking it inside the film, it didn’t change what we were saying. So, in
the end, it just required change of tense…My feeling is it’s made
the film stronger.
Was there a question about beginning the film with the news that he was captured? Did you worry it would give away the ending?
MacQueen: My feeling in the end
was if we hadn’t, watching the film would have felt as if it had been dated by
what happens at the end and if you did know that he was caught, you’d think why
am I watching this film? By putting at the top and changing the tense, my sense
was it made the film feel real within a context. It’s difficult to know. If it
was genuinely a fiction film, you obviously wouldn’t tell it at the top, but I
didn’t think we’d get away with it… Maybe in six months time, we’ll regret it
and decide to remove it.
The truth is — had it happened a month later, it would have not been great for us. We wouldn’t have had the opportunity to take account of this news in the film. [His arrest] gives the film closure. It ends the film.
The point the film makes is still fundamentally the same — which is that nothing really changes as the result of his capture. Are drugs suddenly going to disappear off the streets of America? The supply isn’t going to suddenly go away. There are deep vested interest. The cartel continues.