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Diane Ambruso

Diane Ambruso

Radio-TV-Film Lecturer Creates Documentary “The Hat Lady”

Video to be Shown at March Film Festival and Campus Gender Conference

March 3, 2008

By Pamela McLaren

“My mom received a knit cap when she was in chemotherapy,” explains Diane Ambruso, a Cal State Fullerton alumna and lecturer in radio-TV-film. “I kept wondering, ‘Who is behind these hats?’”

So explains Ambruso, who created the documentary “The Hat Lady,” which will be shown March 9 in the Reel Women International Film Festival at the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills. The festival shows films from 17 different countries and includes the directorial debut of Academy Award winner Helen Hunt.

“The Hat Lady” also will be shown at Cal State Fullerton’s Scholarship on Gender Conference, at 4:00 p.m. on Monday, March 24 in the Titan Student Union.

“I asked about the lady who made the hats, and I found out she was blind,” Ambruso continues. “I was intrigued.”

But finding out more took a while. Finally, Ambruso found the woman behind the hats – Shirley Eberhardt, a 79-year-old woman legally blind from macular degeneration. “Ms. Eberhardt agreed to be interviewed for the movie on the condition that it would help patients. I explained to her how the movie would do that,” says Ambruso.

 Ambruso wrote, directed and edited the 26-minute video, while Jacqueline B. Frost, associate professor of radio-TV-film, was co-producer and cinematographer.

The two filmmakers chronicled many hopeful stories of patients whose lives had been impacted by cancer. Afterward, “The Hat Lady,” as she is commonly known, “sold all her copies of the video to her family and friends to give money back to the patients.”

Eberhardt has done charity work since her childhood during World War II and her knit and crocheted garments have traveled all over the world.

The film — Ambruso’s first as a director — took about a year and a half to complete and involved editing 17 hours of raw footage.

“The high point was bringing the Hat Lady to the clinic and having her meet the patients for the first time,” Ambruso notes. “She was able to give her hats to the patients — it was very moving.”

Ambruso’s experience spans the entertainment industry. She is a paid screenwriter and has won several screenwriting honors, including first place in the Step-Up Screenwriting Contest and three-time finalist or semi-finalist for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Nicholl Fellowship. She has optioned numerous scripts and is credited as a story consultant on two feature-length documentaries. She also has worked as an executive at both DirecTv and ENCORE Media, and has been a professional story analyst for major production companies such as New Line Cinema, MGM and Union Bank's Entertainment Finance Group. She holds an MFA in film and television-screenwriting from UCLA and a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies from Cal State Fullerton. She has taught in the Radio-TV-Film Department since 2000.

Jacqueline Frost has taught on campus since 2002. Prior to joining Cal State Fullerton, Frost served as vice president, producer and director of photography for Corazón Films Inc. and assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University. Her recent films have toured the globe and screened in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She holds an MFA from the University of Miami.

Copies of the video may be obtained via a donation to the Cordelia Knott Center for Wellness. For more info, contact Ambruso at

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