New Award-Winning Documentary Looks At The Ladies Behind Paul’s Hat Works

Although San Francisco company Paul’s Hat Works has been around since 1918, it’s been completely revamped and re-energized by a group of four women who recently bought the family company and intend to keep the tradition of custom millinery alive. This topic inspired local filmmaker Evan Donn to create a short flick about the ladies for the International Documentary Challenge, which requires directors to shoot and produce their films in just five days. Watch the awesome results over here and find out more about the project (which won Best Cinematography and Best Use of the Historical Genre!) in our Q&A with Donn, below.

How did you first hear about the women now behind Paul Hat Works?

“I'd actually passed the shop quite a few times over the years and noticed their window displays, but not being much of a hat person, I'd never stepped in. Then in February, I read a blog post on the shop and the four women who took it over and were keeping the traditional techniques alive. At the time, I remember thinking it sounded like an interesting story and might make a good subject for a film, and I filed it away as a future possibility. Then, in the International Documentary Challenge, teams are assigned genres at random on the first day. When we were assigned the historical genre I remembered the hat shop!"
What appealed to you most about the topic?

“There's the history of the shop itself, of course, as well as the more general history of the hat and its place in the constantly changing world of style. The traditional techniques themselves are fascinating and I think you could make a film just on the process of making a single hat. Of course, there's the background of the four new Paul’s, and their motivation behind taking over the shop and their plans for the future.”

What was the most challenging part of filming in such a short amount of time?
“With only a few days to film, we couldn't afford to shoot a huge amount of footage and not have time to edit it all. So we decided to try and touch on the various aspects of the story without going too deep into any one, sort of giving the audience a taste of what's there while leaving it to them to dig deeper on their own.”

How do you feel about the strength of the film scene here in San Francisco?
“The S.F. film scene doesn't get a lot of attention because there aren't many large Hollywood-style productions shot here anymore, but I feel like we have a really broad and diverse filmmaking community. We've got organizations like Scary Cow, which really helps people get started, and the 9th Street Film Center has become a strong resource for both new and experienced independent filmmakers. There are great local competitions like the 48 Hour Film Project and 7 Day Film Festival, and there are a bunch of great film festivals like the S.F. Independent Film Festival, S.F. International Asian American Film Festival, Noir City, Another Hole In the Head, Docfest, etc. Beyond all that though, I feel that as technology has become more affordable and accessible, it's opened up a lot of opportunities for a lot of new filmmakers and I think the SF film community is thriving because of it.”

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