Carroll Ballard attended film school at UCLA, where one of his classmates was Francis Ford Coppola.
He has directed six feature films, including and. His early credits include the documentaries Beyond This Winter's Wheat (1965) and Harvest (1967), which he made for the U.S. Information Agency. The latter was nominated for an Academy Award.
Rodeo (1970) provided an intimate look at the 1968 National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City. He was second unit director on Star Wars (1977), for which he handled many of the outdoor desert scenes. Ballard finally got the chance to make a feature film when Coppola offered him the job of directing , an adaptation of the children's book by Walter Farley.
The film was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actor (Mickey Rooney). In 2002 the Library of Congress added it to the National Film Registry. His second film was , based on Farley Mowat's autobiographical book of the same name, which detailed Mowat's experiences with Arctic wolves.
In the 1990s, he directed two films: and. His most recent film is , about a young South African boy's friendship with an orphaned cheetah. Most of Ballard's films deal with man and his relation to nature and have a strong poetic streak.
Film critic Kenneth Turan once wrote: " knows how to be both caring and restrained, minimizing a movie's saccharine content while maximizing the sense of wonder.".