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The Legend of Shorty: SXSW Review

The Legend of Shorty - H - 2014

The Bottom Line

Impressive access makes drug doc compelling despite the case's recent resolution.

Venue

South by Southwest Film Festival, Documentary Spotlight

Directors

Angus Macqueen, Guillermo Galdos

Angus Macqueen and Guillermo Galdos race against the authorities to find fugitive druglord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

AUSTIN -- The recent capture of fugitive cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman may be both curse and blessing for Angus Macqueen and Guillermo Galdos, whose The Legend of Shorty centers on the filmmakers' own pursuit of the notorious man: curse, in that the basic mystery of his whereabouts is now solved; blessing, because news reports have made this long-standing case very present in the public consciousness. Digging into the story in an often dramatic way, the film will play well on television -- and the sooner, the better.

The filmmakers say they were motivated to launch their own search because "we've come to distrust everything we've been told about the war on drugs" and believed Mexican authorities probably knew where Guzman was and were too corrupt to bring him in. They certainly find enough evidence of corruption and ineffectiveness here, especially as they get to Culiacan, the home of Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel.

The film offers a quick summary of the smuggler's rise to power and a sketch of the Sinaloa operation's global reach. (Some of the storytelling is done via narcocorridos, the folk songs celebrating smugglers' exploits that have been popular in Mexico for decades.) We meet a man in Chicago who for years has worked for its U.S. branch; we visit harvesters in Mexico and watch as they prepare tidy bales of pot the size of carry-on suitcases. The filmmakers get astonishing access, eventually earning enough trust that they get to visit Guzman's family home and interview his mother, who proudly recalls how fascinated he was with stacks of play money as a child. The man himself passes word through operatives that he's probably willing to meet, and cameras get as far as his private refuge, called Heaven. But multiple false alarms keep the team guessing for months, and before they reach their quarry, Mexican marines nab him in a Mazatlan condo. After 13 years of letting Guzman slip away, they couldn't wait a bit longer to allow for Legend's hard-earned finale?

Production company: Ronachan Films
Directors: Angus Macqueen, Guillermo Galdos
Screenwriter: Angus Macqueen
Producers: Simon Chinn, Andrew Mackenzie-Betty
Music: Jackson Scott
Editor: Paul Carlin
Sales: Protagonist Pictures
No MPAA rating, 90 minutes