Martín Luis Guzmán and John Reed both tried to capture Francisco “Pancho” Villa’s elusive quality in their prose, while Wallace Beery portrayed a larger-than-life Villa on Hollywood’s silver screen. Ancianos, local chroniclers, corrido balladeers, and contemporary historians have offered a collectively ambiguous judgment of the man and his actions during the Mexican Revolution. Who was the real Pancho Villa? Was he a cutthroat, a self-styled Robin Hood who stole from the rich and gave to the poor, a revolutionary reformer who distributed lands to Chihuahuan peasants and cowboys? Was he a military caudillo who led his feared Division of the North on macho cavalry charges, bringing initial success and later disaster? Was he a peasant leader with a social agenda, or a brutal killer who lived by an outmoded code of honor that valued loyalty above all else and carried out unpredictable, ritualized acts of vengeance, like Facundo Quiroga?

Filmmakers Héctor Galán and Ricardo Espinosa try to sift through the often conflicting images in this installment from the PBS series The American Experience. Their video focuses on Villa’s notorious 1916 raid on Columbus, New Mexico, which left 17 North Americans dead, and the foolhardy Pershing expedition that sought to bring him to justice.

Blending a variety of arresting visual images—pictures, priceless film clips from the Toscano archives, and contemporary postcards—with the words of “talking-head” Mexican and North American historians and fascinating eyewitnesses who relive their own experiences, The Hunt for Pancho Villa stylistically echoes Ken Burns’s popular Civil War series. The filmmakers’ Shelby Foote is a Villista soldier, Enrique Alférez, who, with a twinkle in his eye and a beret on his head, recounts what it was like to ride and fight with Villa during those tumultuous times.

The Hunt for Pancho Villa concludes that the Columbus raid was precipitated by the North American decision to recognize Venustiano Carranza in October 1915 and the rebels’ own desperate military predicament at that moment. Villa, who had always had good relations with the United States and had taken special pains to protect North American investment, felt betrayed, the filmmakers contend, when Woodrow Wilson’s administration threw its lot (and sent its armaments) to Carranza. The vengeance myth, apparently, rides again.

The documentary also fleshes out the Pershing expedition, which crossed into Mexico and wandered across the desert in a futile search for the elusive Villa. Historian Louis Sadler asserts that this almost comical military operation represented the last hurrah for the U.S. cavalry, as armored cars, primitive tanks, and biplanes were first introduced into combat to complement the mounted troops. In that sense, the hunt became a military proving ground for World War I.

If Galán and Espinosa have not succeeded in demythologizing the man, they have presented viewers with an intriguing historical analysis of the Columbus raid, which sparked outrage, engendered racism, and swelled nationalistic pride on different sides of the border.

The other PBS video under review, a Carlos Salinas interview with David Frost, took place three weeks before the NAFTA vote in the U.S. Congress in November 1993. For much of the interview, Salinas responds to Frost’s recitation of bits and pieces of Ross Perot’s polemic on NAFTA. This interview is dated and of limited use to students of Latin American history.