After producing numerous documentaries and books, Dr. Vernon Williams, professor of history, will spend his spring break in Mexico City to conduct interviews for his next film about the Pancho Villa Expedition, or Punitive Expedition, of 1916.
“The story of the film is going to be the story of this expedition,” Williams said. “It will not just be the story of the American side, but I want to look at the role Pancho Villa had in the Mexican Revolution.”
The Punitive Expedition was a military operation in which the U.S. Army tried to capture Francisco “Pancho” Villa, a Mexican revolutionary, and took place during the Mexican Revolution.
With the help of Francisco Villa, an ACU graduate and great-grandson of the late Pancho Villa, Williams was able to set up interviews with other members of Pancho’s family and various academic historians to help expand the research done for his first book, Lieutenant Patton.
“He (Francisco) said one day he went to the library to see what kind of books they might have that included his great-grandfather,” Williams said. “He was shocked to find out someone at ACU had written a book about the Punitive Expedition.”
According to Williams, Villa tried to follow up with him about his first book a few years back, but their timing never matched up.
“He came over to the history department looking for me, and as it turns out, he was told I was out of the country,” Williams said.
Although no one ever mentioned it to Williams when he returned, he unintentionally followed up a little while back. After speaking with Villa, Williams said the interviews are set, and the people are looking forward to being interviewed.
“The Mexican people I am going to interview are very eager to talk with me,” Williams said. “They have agreed to be interviewed with no restrictions. They’re eager for the stories to be done, they are supportive of the film, and there is an eagerness.”
Williams said he hopes the film will portray the American and Mexican sides of the event. He has already been to Washington D.C., and the interviews and research he is planning to conduct during spring break will be valuable to the final production.
“Our primary goal is to preserve the history of this event, but more than that to make it possible for the voices of ordinary people on both sides of the combat trail to be heard,” Williams said. “When I was in the National Archives, the footage I was looking for had not been looked at in 50, 60, 70 years. It had been forgotten.”
The project is being conducted for a historical society in Arizona, and Dr. Ron Morgan, chair of the Department of History and Global Studies, said this is another example of the impact and reputation Williams has at ACU and in the community’s history.
“It’s really good for ACU because Vernon Williams represents us out in the wider historical scholarship community, and he is well known and well reputed for his work,” Morgan said.
His film will be titled Patton and Pancho: A Clash of Cultures and it is set to premiere March 2016. This date will mark the 100-year anniversary of the event, and Williams said he hopes it will mean even more.
“All of these people – the Americans that I will interview, the historians on this side of the border, the members of the family of Pancho Villa, the Mexican historians – we are all interested in trying to help develop this resource that will not only help us make some sense of what happened, but apply it to our world today,” Williams said.