Queens & Cowboys: Matt Livadary

Ahead of its showing at Stockholm Film Festival, Victor Moreno talks to the director about his film documenting a year on the Gay Rodeo circuit

Belt Buckle, Queens and Cowboys still
In order to map out his first feature film, Matt Livadary left his job working as an editor alongside director Marc Forster (Stranger than Fiction, World War Z) and moved back to his parents’ house. Saving the money he made shooting weddings and real estate videos, and crowd-funding the rest of his budget via Kickstarter, Queens and Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo was born, a film documenting the queer community of rodeo riders in North America.

Cowyboy, Queens and Cowboys stillSticking to the traditional cowboy code of heart, courage and toughness, the film follows gay rodeo riders as they try to win the much coveted belt buckle whilst inverting stereotypes and expectations surrounding ‘gay culture’. What emerges from the film is not a depiction of sexuality, but of community, as all genders compete in a season of the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA). Still blacklisted and shunned by the heteronormative rodeo circuit, Queens and Cowboys illuminates a little-discussed arena of the LGBTQ world, highlighting the struggles facing the organisation and its riders.

The winner of Best Documentary and The Audience’s Award at Santa Barbara Film Festival earlier this year, the film is being screened this week at the Stockholm International Film Festival. Matt talks to Victor Moreno about his film.

When Brokeback Mountain was nominated for Best Picture at the 2005 Oscars, it was a game changer in the depiction of homosexuality in rural West America. How do you think it affected the Gay Rodeo?

That’s a great question. Talking to so many people from the rural parts of America, real cowboys and farmers and gay people mostly from Gay Rodeo, they all describe that movie as being a game changer. It was the first time they were portrayed in a very authentic way, and for a lot of people it had a profound effect on their lives. Because of that movie, lots of people came out of the closet in the US, and since then the Gay Rights Movement has progressed so rapidly. It’s almost trendy to have a gay character in a TV show, and gay media is so accepted now [in comparison to the past].

But the views held by people who stand against homosexuality still exist. They’re just quieter. I found very difficult to have a conversation about sexuality with them – it makes people very uncomfortable. There is a term in the US; “Don’t ask, don’t tell”. It referred to our soldiers: ‘I won’t ask you if you are gay, you won’t tell me if you are gay’, that was the policy, but it extended beyond the military…

Image: Victor Moreno

The cowboy is an icon of American culture – do some Americans think the Gay Rodeo is messing with their traditions?

The cowboy is the personification of America. In the US, we grow up thinking it’s the essence of masculinity and manhood, bravery and toughness. That’s all true, and this idea has been passed down to us generationally. But there are other people that also built America; I believe there definitely were gay cowboys long before there was Brokeback Mountain. Their story never got told. Someone talking about that probably would have been killed at the time. Rodeo seems like a really unique thing.

It is more like a culture than a sport. It’s an entire mentality; it feels like going back 500 years when you visit a rodeo. I got made fun for not wearing jeans and for driving a Toyota, a non-American car.

In a more serious instance, a bull rider got hung up; his hand got stuck to the bull and he broke his hand. He came back and his buddies were joking with him, they said ‘Now you gonna have to wave like a faggot for the rest of your life’, you know, because of the position of his hand, and everyone started laughing. It is a totally different place. In most professional sports, being openly gay is very taboo. There are a few people starting to do it. But rodeo as a sport? It’s the last place for that to happen.
Cont’d: Just a few of riders are good enough to compete in the straight rodeo, but then they don’t want people to know they are gay [in case they become a target]. It is a very dangerous thing for them to do.

Also, participants basically pay for the privilege of getting injured – rodeo is the only sport you get money if you get first place, the rest go home with nothing. In rodeo there is no salary. Only a few people work in a ranch-style cowboy lifestyle doing that for a living, but for the most part, people in rodeo have day jobs.

The film has been screened at film festivals across the US. Was the response different from gay audiences in comparison to largely straight crowds?

What it’s most gratifying is that it’s been playing to both straight and gay audiences and received the same reaction. It’s been great. Both sides have accepted it, which is the whole point. I’m straight and I wanted to tell a story about people from the Gay Rodeo community, and less about sexuality. Rodeo was a good vessel for that. The movie is ultimately about people. In Santa Barbara, we also had drag queens coming to the screening: they brought their own red carpet and unrolled it whatever we were to walk around on. It was really fun.

How important is commercial success when doing a project like this?

Commercial success – it’s not important at all. We’ve been approached by people who want to take the documentary and make a feature film from it. They want to script it and make an entirely different idea from it, a comedy or some ridiculous idea. It just does not interest me.

I’d rather have five people watch the film at home and have a great reaction to it than a hundred thousand people see a shitty version of it.

Queens and Cowboy is showing at Stockholm Film Festival 15 November. Click for more information, or see more about the film here