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The Cowboy Hat Movie

One cowboy’s quest to find the ultimate cowboy hat, while exploring its origins and evolution, including how latin culture, an American entrepreneur and Hollywood’s Golden Age solidified this iconic expression of the American West.

  • John Carter
  • Alivia Olson
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 19 minutes 28 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    March 1, 2020
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - John Carter

Emmy award winning director and producer with credits ranging from the Tour de France to three Olympics and over twenty-five years creating content. The Cowboy Hat Movie is a return to documentary work, Carter’s early career, including many outdoor documentaries with a focus on the American wilderness.

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Director Statement

I was born and grew up in the newly desegregated rural south of the United States in Mississippi. I was infatuated by the cinema in terms of what mainstream fare I could consume without access to an extensive tape library or art house theater. Seeing Apocalypse Now was a seminal juncture with film and opened my eyes to the wider world. Literature was my biggest early influence, especially once I discovered Mississippians William Faulkner and Eudora Welty with their singular voices telling stories whose characters I could recognize. The musical equivalent was the Delta Blues and I was just as influenced by those rural voices that came out of my home state.

Infatuation with production began with the audio side when at 13 I began mixing the radio broadcasts of my Baptist church to the low power station in my hometown. That technical expertise and reputation turned into a video production job in my later teens where I first began shooting and editing industrial films. Love of creating visual media motivated me to go to film school, first in Texas, then later in New York.

Advertising and sports television were first career steps and fulfilled the need to tell stories using a camera. Three Olympics, some award winning ad campaigns and years of building technical and creative expertise led me to becoming head of production for a cable network and producing the American coverage of the Tour de France, multiple series and my network’s launch of the National Hockey League.

I left the network to start my own production company in the late 2000s and focus on entertainment and telling unique stories about things I was passionate about and wanted to share with a broader audience.

About eight years ago, I did a feature story in one of my television shows about a custom cowboy hat maker in Montana. His passion about his craft after 40 years in the business struck a resonant chord that I couldn’t forget. The object of his passion and craftsmanship also stuck with me in a way that became somewhat obsessive.

The fact that the cowboy hat exists so persistently out of its place and time became a fascination and the basis of a long-form story in my mind. Where did it come from and how does it still endure when the rest of the “cowboy’s” accoutrements have become more or less forgotten? Why do craftsmen still toil with steam to create a style of hat that was born over a century and a half ago? And what does this symbol mean in today’s world and why have so many adopted it as a statement of fashion?

Then there’s Hollywood. Its evident that the western, as a film genre, has as much to do with the iconic status of the cowboy hat as anything. Perhaps more. Tracing the lineage from the earliest days of cinema and the West’s first celebrity - Buffalo Bill Cody - triggered an exploration of the golden age of Hollywood and the autuer’s use of the American West to tell morality tales in post World War 2 America that had universal appeal to the rest of the world. Those films had an incredible influence on me equal to all of the other cinematic masterpieces I was exposed to in my exploration of film.

That’s why I undertook this more than two year journey to gather all the historical images, film clips, visit multiple custom hatters, walk Hollywood Boulevard (with a camera) in my hat, and assemble the comprehensive story of the cowboy hat.