Private Project

Cowboy Christmas

In the two weeks before Independence Day, there are over 30 rodeos across 19 states, all awarding big cash prizes. This fascinating character study follows four cowboys as they travel this circuit, hoping to grab their share of rodeo fame and fortune. They drive hundreds of miles, day and night, to get to the next run and another seconds-long chance of winning, even as they risk breaking bones, overdrawing bank accounts, and sacrificing personal relationships.

  • H.D. Motyl
    Waco Tragedy, Nudes Descending a Staircase, Token of Love, Memorial, Conspiracy: Lincoln Assassination, Messages from Jeanne
  • H.D. Motyl
    Waco Tragedy, Token of Love, Conspiracy: Lincoln Assassination, Daylight Savings
  • H.D. Motyl
    Waco Tragedy, Nudes Descending a Staircase, Token of Love, Memorial, Conspiracy: Lincoln Assassination, Messages from Jeanne
  • Alicia Healy
    Workplace Essential Skills, among many others
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Genres:
    Action, Sports, Character Study, Western, Cowboys, Passion, Road Movie, Masculinity, Western Culture, Animals
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 14 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    June 20, 2013
  • Production Budget:
    45,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Louisville International Festival of Film
    Louisville, Kentucky
    October 15, 2013
  • Madrid International Film Festival
    Madrid, Spain
    July 6, 2013
    World Premiere
    Best Feature Documentary
  • Virginia Film Festival
    Charlottesville, Virginia
    October 12, 2013
    North American Premiere
  • Trail Dance Film Festival
    Duncan, Oklahoma
    January 25, 2014
    Nominated: Best Feature Documentary
  • Beloit International Film Festival
    Beloit, Wisconsin
    February 8, 2014
    Finalist, Audience Favorite
  • Broadcast Education Association (BEA)
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    April 9, 2014
    Best of Fest: Feature Documentary
  • Fort Hays State University
    Hays, Kansas
    November 5, 2014
  • Three Rivers Film Festival
    Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    November 8, 2014
    Pennsylvania Premiere
  • WSIU Public Broadcasting
    Carbondale, Illinois
    July 3, 2014
    World TV Premiere
  • Reno Public Media
    Reno, Nevada
    October 23, 2014
  • Southern Illinois University
    Carbondale, Illinois
    March 21, 2014
  • Oaxaca Sports Film Festival
    Oaxaca Mexico
    February 26, 2015
    Mexican Premiere
  • Voghera Film Festival
    Voghera Italy
    September 18, 2015
  • Colorado International Film Festival

    Best Sports Action Film
  • Redlands Film and Beer Festival
    Redlands CA
    October 24, 2015
    California Premiere
  • Daintree International Film Festival
    Danville KY
    October 23, 2015
  • Nevada International Film Festival
    Las Vegas, NV
    Platinum Reel Award
  • Erie International Film Festival
    Erie PA
    December 12, 2015
Director Biography - H.D. Motyl

H.D. Motyl is an Associate Professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale where he teaches Media Production and Writing for TV. His feature-length documentary about professional rodeo, Cowboy Christmas, won Best Feature Documentary at the Madrid International Film Festival and the Broadcast Education Association’s Festival of Media Arts.
His experimental video, Nudes Descending a Staircase #2 has screened at the 8th Berlin International Directors Lounge Festival and Madatac04 in Madrid. Other award-winning work, including Oh Michael/Oh Jesus, Memorial and Messages from Jeanne, has also screened in festivals worldwide.
Currently, Motyl is writing a film, Saturn Return, about a man as he turns 30 and deals with three kinds of love: fraternal, romantic, and filial. H.D. is also outlining a feature script titled Three Rivers, about a woman, time travel and the consequences of choices, on an island in the middle of the Ohio River.
Originally from Pittsburgh, he was graduated from Penn State University with a B.A. in English and holds an M.F.A from Northwestern University in Film/Video Production and Screenwriting.

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Director Statement

Believe it or not, I did not see a professional rodeo until I traveled to Cody, Wyoming to search for a cowboy to feature in Cowboy Christmas. I’m not even sure why I was attracted to the subject of rodeo and rodeo cowboys.

I had heard country songs about rodeo—“Amarillo by Morning” by George Strait maybe the most famous—and I had become fascinated with the romanticism of rodeos, and our romantic idea of what a cowboy was, and is. Somewhere along the line, around 2006 maybe, a friend who had heard me talking about rodeo alerted me to an article in USA Today titled “Cowboy Christmas”. It described how four men left their jobs, their families and relationships and piled into a pickup truck together to travel the Cowboy Christmas rodeo circuit. Immediately, I became more fascinated with what drove these men—and all the other rodeo men and women—to give up so much for this sport.

As a writer, and a teacher of writing, I knew there are reasons for the motivations of characters in works of fiction, and that this was true in real life. I wanted to know those reasons for the cowboys, I wanted to create a character studies about rodeo cowboys. I applied for a grant from Southern Illinois University where I teach, and received one in 2008. That summer, I saw my first pro rodeo in Cody, Wyoming, as I began my search for a cowboy and his buddies to feature in the doc. And I found them, all of them fascinating characters, with multi-faceted lives and varied reasons for rodeoing.

In the summer of 2009, my small crew and I drove to Texas to begin our trek of capturing our cowboys on their treks through the Western states. During that first week in Texas, I really learned about the passion these men have for the sport. I also saw in my life a parallel passion to theirs: filmmaking. They can’t quit rodeo even when they’re not winning or not winning a lot. Independent filmmakers can’t quit making films, videos, media of any kind, even if our film isn’t getting into as many festivals as we want. Our passion for making media work is very similar to their passion for participating in rodeo. In fact, any artist’s passion for his or her work is very similar to the rodeo cowboy’s passion for his sport.

Besides the passion of the participants, I was also struck about how deeply rooted rodeo is in the American West and Southwest. I was surprised to find high school rodeo teams, college rodeo teams, amateur rodeos, and semi-pro rodeos. In professional rodeo, women only compete in barrel racing, but in every other rodeo, women and girls compete in a variety of events. I discovered the importance of rodeos to small towns and their economies, some of which we touch upon in Cowboy Christmas but could be a documentary unto itself.

The richness of rodeo life, and the diversity of the people involved in rodeo, actually could fill a documentary series. Maybe someday someone will do that. In the meantime, I hope that I have opened a corral door on this uniquely American subculture and allowed audiences to see themselves in these cowboys as they—and we all—follow our passions as we move on down the road.