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Fastback Lulu Gargiulo Wears her Filmmaking (Cowboy) Hat

“Tell me if you want short answers,” Lulu Gargiulo says with equal parts consideration and decisiveness over the phone. “Do you want sound bites?”

That charming directness doesn’t surprise, coming from the singer and guitarist for power-pop stalwarts the Fastbacks. Gargiulo’s made a musical career out of keeping things short, sweet and on-point, but it’s her other creative life in the film industry that’s got her sussing out just how much talking she’ll have to do.

There’s plenty for her to talk about. Howdy Pardner: Tales of the Cowboy Hat, a documentary on which she served as director of photography, screens at 3 p.m. on Saturday at the Northwest Film Forum. It’s a labor of love and a family project to boot, shot by Gargiulo and directed by her husband, veteran filmmaker David Wild.

“It’s about the rise and the fall of hats in general, and in particular cowboy hats,” she explains. “It’s this little pet project that we thought was going to be a short film.” Her spouse originally envisioned Howdy Pardner as a more compact effort, but once Wild and Gargiulo shot in Texas for a week, it was clear they’d found something worth exploring more deeply. “The cowboy hat’s this symbol of America, really,” she says. “You can go anywhere in the world, and if you’re wearing a cowboy hat, they think of you as American.”

In addition to shooting the movie, Gargiulo took an active role in Howdy Pardner’s financing (“I’ve sort of taken over in the producer’s role,” she says). She and Wild secured much-needed funds from King County arts grantors 4Culture, as well as a Women in Film Seattle professional member’s Get ‘Er Done grant. The documentary’s free screening satisfies one of 4Culture’s requirements for funds.

The trailer on the Howdy Pardner website promises an engaging history lesson as well as testimony from several Stetson-clad Texans. “It’s pretty chock-full of nuts,” Gargiulo says affectionately. “There are a lot of talking heads in it, and some history, but it’s still not your typical Ken Burns documentary.”

David Wild’s impressive career as a filmmaker has spanned some thirty years (several of his Ten Second Films became fixtures on MTV in the 1980s and '90s), but Gargiulo’s no babe in the moviemaking woods herself. For years she juggled her career as a member of the Fastbacks with extensive DP and camera operation work, shooting everything from indie features to commercials to music videos and then flying cross-country to join her fellow Fastbacks onstage. “I was very lucky because the Fastbacks, for the most part, were pretty patient with me in my career in film.”

Gargiulo’s documentary work has definitely informed her visual style, she reckons. “My style is to be un-stylized. I don’t want a space to look like I went in and lit it: I want it to look like nobody went in there and lit it. That’s always my goal.” 

Howdy Pardner, as it turns out, isn’t the only feature-length project on the Wild/Gargiulo docket. The filmmakers are also putting finishing touches on another documentary, The 47 Views of Leslie Laskey. They’re planning on submitting the end result to several film festivals. “He’s still alive, and he’s still one of the most productive people I know,” Gargiulo says of the now 90-something artist and college professor who serves as the doc’s subject. “When we would visit him, we’d always be so excited. We’d leave kind of inspired; wanting to go out and do stuff. And we want people to get that kind of feeling by watching him.”

Pictured above: Lulu Gargiulo. Photo by David Wild.

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