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“Carpet Cowboys” Weaves Strong Threads

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | August 22nd, 2023

Film poster: “Carpet Cowboys”

Carpet Cowboys just had its world premiere at the inaugural run of the New/Next Film Fest, located in Baltimore, MD.

Carpet Cowboys (Emily Mackenzie/Noah Collier, 2023) 3 out of 4 stars.

Here’s a fun fact that many, if not most, people probably don’t know: the city of Dalton, Georgia, is the “carpet capital of the world,” producing nearly 50% of the world’s carpets, at least for now. It’s a position it has grown into since approximately the middle of the 20th century. Among those who make their living selling such floor coverings is at least one self-proclaimed “cowboy,” from whom Carpet Cowboys, filmmakers Emily Mackenzie and Noah Collier’s debut documentary feature, takes its title.

That would be Roderick James, a Scottish transplant who has made his home in Dalton for quite a while, reveling in how well the American Dream has worked for him.  A carpet designer, rather than manufacturer, James now finds himself facing a potential lack of commissions, despite his many awards and successes, given the increasing corporate takeover of the industry. As family businesses give way to industrial consolidation, he finds himself looking for any and all new ventures to propel him into some kind of future.


James is not alone here, though he is the primary figure. There’s also father and son Doug and Lloyd Caldwell, long in the mix with their local company, who provide important context for what has been and what might yet still be. Harry Ward is part of the narrative, too. He’s a former carpet worker who now carves animal faces out of local stones, fashioning them into unique sculptures.

Living with James is Jon Black, a middle-aged farmboy and musician who helps in all of his friend’s projects, basking in the aura of the great man, who also fancies country music and joins Black in creating songs and jingles. But looming on the horizon is the specter of massive change. James sees partnership with China as his path to renewed riches, and since he’s in a long-distance relationship with a Filipina woman, wonders whether he should not permanently move to her country and be closer to his possible partners.

l-r: Lloyd and Doug Caldwell in CARPET COWBOYS @MEMORY

If all of this sounds like a lot for one movie, have no fear, as Mackenzie and Collier prove more than up the task of managing it all. The latter is also the cinematographer, and fills the frame with a panoply of gorgeous images of, yes, carpets, but also faces, storefronts, and landscapes. The directors also bring in a recurring visual motif of a rug-clad walking mannequin, who serves as anonymous avatar of all the “cowboys” at the center. The film also showcases a lovely score, courtesy of composer Kara-Lis Coverdale, which offers gentle accompaniment to the story, never overwhelming us with any kind of forceful excess.

One might wish that Mackenzie and Collier explored parts of James’ character a little more deeply—for instance, what lies behind his declaration that he is “done with Western women”?—but overall, the documentary offers a satisfying examination of a specific group of people on the cusp of major shifts. The stakes are high, and the drama engrosses. Keep rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, cowboys, and may the carpets follow wherever you go.


Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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