Will Mexican drug lord Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán become more famous now that he is behind bars than when he was hiding in secret tunnels and sewers? It’s hard to tell, but two weeks after his headline-grabbing arrest in Mexico, a new documentary about the life of this nearly mythical figure made its world premiere at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas.
According to those who have watched The Legend Of Shorty, a 90 minute British documentary co-directed by British filmmaker Angus MacQueen and Peruvian journalist Guillermo Galdós, the film is a blend of mythology and hard facts. The Guardian’s film critic Henry Barnes wrote that The Legend of Shorty follows MacQueen and Galdós as they head out on their own investigation into the whereabouts of the world’s biggest drug dealer. “With extraordinary access to the cartel the pair travel to Mexico’s Golden Triangle, bear witness to the batch-loads of cocaine, meth and marijuana being prepared for transport and take part in long, often surreal meetings with Chapo’s inner circle, including a lunch date with his mum,” Barnes wrote.
McQueen told Spain’s Efe wire service that they didn’t think their lives were in danger when they were filming, because they are foreigners. There is a general belief that foreign nationals, whether tourists or otherwise, tend to be less physically vulnerable than Mexican nationals.
It is not clear if MacQueen and Galdós tried and failed to interview El Chapo before he was caught. In any event, the Mexican Navy and the DEA beat them to it when they found the drug lord still in bed at an oceanfront condominium in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, his home state, in the early hours of February 22. The arrest put an end to an international manhunt that has made a mockery of U.S. and Mexican law-enforcement over the past 13 years.
Barnes writes that the film’s directors recruited songwriter Jackson Scott to compose folk songs in English and Spanish telling tales about the past of one the world’s richest outlaws: “We hear how Chapo escaped from a maximum security prison by hiding in a laundry cart, we watch the film-makers compare the kingpin to Zorro, racing through the countryside, answering the call of the common man.”
In an effort to balance what appears to be a friendly portrait of the man responsible for introducing 25% of the illegal drugs into the U.S. market –including 50% of the heroine– the film discusses the bloody war on drugs and the 80,000 deaths that have resulted from it. Mexican journalist Anabel Hernández, author of Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and Their Godfathers, offers “a vital counter-point to the intoxicating legend”, as Barnes puts it, by accusing the Mexican government of protecting El Chapo while he turned his business into a word-wide criminal empire that has no precedent in history.
Barnes calls The Legend of Shorty “an impressive film” and says that El Chapo’s unexpected arrest does not annul its purpose: “To suggest so is to assume that El Chapo’s empire is locked up with the man. That a corporation shuts down because the CEO is absent.”
On that, Barnes has a point. There seems to be a wide consensus, both inside and outside Mexico, that El Chapo’s arrest will change little. “He will have a laptop, [his prison] will turn into a hotel, and he will return to running the cartel from there,” a senior DEA official told The Guardian last month. “That is not something he has to build – it is something he already has.”
Since 2009, El Chapo has been included in Forbes’ World’s Most Powerful People list.
Originally posted on Forbes.com