Country songs inspire SIU professor to make rodeo documentary

Sunday, June 7, 2009

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Since Howard D. Motyl made the decision to produce a documentary following the lives of three cowboys traveling the rodeo circuit, many people have stopped to ask him the same question. "Why?"

And it's a question Motyl, an assistant professor of radio-television at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, has a difficult time answering.

"I really have no idea why," he said. "I grew up in Pittsburgh. I never had a horse. I don't have a love for horses. I've never been a fan of Westerns."

The best guess he can offer is one that the idea grew out of hearing older country music songs telling the stories of life on the road, away from home and roughing it.

Songs like "Rodeo" by Garth Brooks and "Amarillo by Morning" by George Strait spin tales of a love for rodeo, a love that verges on obsession, Motyl said.

"It's like this obsession for these guys to get out there on the road," he said. "They don't make a lot of money, but they can't stop doing it."

Last year, Motyl traveled to Cody, Wyo., where he met the three centerpieces of his documentary, "Cowboy Christmas."

In January, Motyl and his crew traveled around Texas, conducting in-depth interviews with the three men and their families. He's preparing to join them as the travel the West for the three weeks preceding the Fourth of July, a time of year informally known as Cowboy Christmas.

Positions in the December's national rodeo championships go to the nation's top money earners through the year, so many cowboys travel to dozens of shows in that three week period, trying to earn as much as they can.

"If you win a lot of money during those three weeks, you're set for Vegas in December," Motyl said.

By October, Motyl will know if his cowboys make it to nationals, which will determine how far the documentary will go into their stories.

He plans to have the documentary completely finished by December 2010 and has been working on a potential partnership with WSIU, the local PBS affiliate. He also plans to show the film at various film festivals and to contact cable networks like HBO and Showtime about airing it.

His work has previously been broadcast on A&E, The History Channel and National Geographic Channel.

It has also been produced for home video and educational markets.

"The rodeo, for them, is an obsession," he said of his latest project. "This rodeo documentary, for me, has become an obsession."

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