The Panama Hat

A Film by Therese Engels and Gernot Stadler

Documentation, 30 min, 2011
Written and directed by
Therese Engels and Gernot Stadler
Gernot Stadler
Emil Plonski

It’s probably the most famous hat in the world. However, little is known about its true origin and about the elaborate art of weaving straw hats. In small villages not far from the Ecuadorian Pacific coast, the noble headgear is woven in elaborate handwork and finally ironed over a mold to receive its final shape. Children, women and men braid on a single hat for up to six months. From Montechristi, the capital of the region, the hats are mainly exported to the USA and Europe, where they are sold in exclusive shops for 500 to 20,000 (!) euros. The hatmakers in Pile, Montechristi and other localities in the region receive only between 50 and 300 US dollars for their work, depending on the number of knots woven. Very rarely, buyers pay 1,000 US dollars for a particularly fine hat, a so-called Superfino with about 46 knots.

The film documents the elaborate production of the Panama hats, which are exclusively woven from the bleached shoots of the toquilla palm. Hatmakers like Paulina Espinal and her daughter Ingrid proudly show their skill, the old master hatmaker Idolo Pinal explains what is important. He patiently passes on his knowledge and art to future hat makers, such as the 13-year-old Ronald Luca. So that, as he says, this unique, centuries-old craft does not die out.