Gather ’round, children, and we’ll tell you the tale of Elfego Baca—or, to be more specific, filmmaker Antonio Márquez will tell you the tale. See, Baca was a lesser-known folk hero-style New Mexican/Mexican-American, an infamous gunman, soldier, lawyer, private investigator and all-around legend-maker from the time of Billy the Kid. In Márquez’s ¡Baca the Kid! short, which plays as part of the Santa Fe International Film Festival’s New Mexico Shorts program (9 pm Saturday, Oct. 22. $15. Jean Cocteau Cinema, 418 Montezuma Ave., (505) 466-5528), we learn the true story of how Baca found himself trapped in a shack in a remote area of New Mexico during a 30-hour standoff against white supremacist cowboy types circa 1833—and walked away unscathed. Márquez’s film is equal parts informative, funny and thrilling, a notable feat given its roughly 14-minute runtime. We spoke with Márquez, who wrote, directed, produced and starred in the film, to learn more. You, meanwhile, can learn even more when Márquez takes part in the festivals’ Short Filmmaker Panel (11 am Sunday, Oct. 23. Free. form & concept, 435 S Guadalupe St., (505) 780-8312). This interview has been edited for length and clarity. (Alex De Vore)
I understand there was a Disney show in the ‘60s about Elfego Baca (with Robert Loggia, even), but I’m not sure he’s a well-known figure. Why do you think that is?
I think there are a few contributing factors—and that ‘60s show with Robert Loggia is pretty bad—but he’s known to old Chicanos and old New Mexicans, people like that; but mostly on the older side; a lot of old-timers. Y’know, I think he’s just not known. For the Old West kind of thing, you could make the argument that because he didn’t die, like Billy the Kid, there’s not this romantic legacy. But Wyatt Earp didn’t die until he was well into old age, so I think it comes back to how he was a New Mexican who stood up to white supremacy. He stood up for New Mexicans, and I don’t think that was a legend that fell nicely and neatly into the image of the Old West.
Your film is based on a true story about a protracted standoff. How did you come to learn about this event and how did you know you wanted to make it the basis of a movie?
I grew up with my family doing cowboy shit, and I was always enamored with the West and Old West stories. And this guy was New Mexican—I latched onto him pretty young; he was in these books called Classic Gunfights, and I was like, ‘This guy’s awesome!’ Plus, I had a friend who’s a Baca and her dad would tell stories.
But I was always fascinated, and during the pandemic, my cousin Daniel Marquez and I had all this time, so I did all this reading about Baca. I tracked down...there are only 300 copies of his autobiography, which was hand-pressed in the 1930s in the South Valley of Albuquerque. And I read this biography he did with another guy, one from a lawyer’s point of view. I read firsthand accounts from newspapers—and two guys who were [at that standoff] recounted the story in their memoirs, too. It’s actually a pretty well-documented event. So I wrote a feature script and kind of got the bug planted, and I eventually realized it could be a short, too.
Was there anything you wish you could have fit into the film but didn’t, or is it more like you hope people will try to learn about Elfego Baca?
Writing the feature was enormously helpful, and that was kind of the challenge, too. So much of it goes into the backstory of [Baca’s] brother getting lynched, his cousin getting killed in jail—he broke his dad out of jail. When I had to strip it all away, it was liberating, without making it a history lesson, to just get into the primal survival theme of the story. Even when we were doing sound design, we wanted the sound of the guys outside coming through, the chaotic nature. If I wanted to put anything else in, I think it would take a feature. I’d love to show his journey leading up to this. He has some stories about hanging about with Billy the Kid, which may or may not be true, for example.
When you’re reading his biographies, it’s some pretty harrowing shit he went through, but I think we captured the tone of the story. I’d love to…flesh out the tone of that story. I think it’s a traumatic survival story—he stood up to white supremacy—but it’s also a fun adventure. I hope those heavy things resonate almost on a subconscious level. I hope people read more about him, though, because he was really fascinating: He was a lawyer, he got involved with the Mexican revolution, he was a private investigator. One of the funniest things I read was that, late in life, he started wearing a cape and hired a bodyguard. He’d wear the cape in Old Town and walk around handing out his business card.