Entertainment » Movies

‘Queens & Cowboys’ :: A Conversation with Director Matt Livadary

by Thom Senzee
Saturday Dec 27, 2014

There are six LGBT-themed entrants in the 2015 Palm Springs International Film Festival, happening from Friday, January 2 through Monday, January 12. Those six are:

Limited Partnership, Thomas G. Miller’s and Kirk Marcolina’s gay love story called “remarkably poignant” by The Hollywood Reporter;

Mommy, a film by Xavier Dolan that was the darling of many at Cannes;

Saint Laurent, Bertrand Bonello’s lurid, unauthorized biopic about the late designer Yves;

Queens & Cowboys, director Matt Livadary’s take on the International Gay Rodeo Association, Sand Dollars (Dólares de Arena), Laura Amelia Guzmán’s and Israel Cárdenas’ moving soliloquy about intergenerational, class-crossing lesbian love; and,

Xenia, Panos Koutras’ fourth feature that has critics’ frustrated approval.

It’s Livadary’s “Queens & Cowboys” that stands out as the only “accidental
LGBT film.” It’s getting a lot of buzz.


How does it feel to have just won the Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature?

It feels surreal. You spend so long putting the work in, that you sort of forget the entire concept of awards – you just feel lucky A). getting to share it with the world, and B). not having to f*cking edit anymore!

It’s really gratifying to have won awards at LGBT fests (like QCinema Ft. Worth and Out at the Movies Fest in Winston-Salem) and “mainstream” fests (Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Dallas International Film Festival, etc). The goal from day one was to make a film primarily about LGBT films that would be seen as more than simply an LGBT film – and “rodeo” is such a great vessel to bring together both sides. The film is about people and the common qualities we share of courage and perseverance.

You say you’re a straight city boy who always wanted to be a cowboy. How did you come to explore cowboys and rodeo via the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA)?

I was originally doing research for a scripted television show I hoped to develop, a show about salt-of-the-earth rodeo cowboys roping and riding through the American west. It all stemmed from a trip to a Cody, Wyoming rodeo with my dad when I was only three years old. Since then, rodeo has always been a fascinating subject for me. It’s a sport and a culture where you can avoid the fast-changing world and go back to simpler times. But, I also found the world of rodeo to be incredibly homogenous.

That is, until I was at a “straight” rodeo in Colorado and sat next to a lesbian couple in the stands. They informed me that they rarely come to straight rodeo events. What do you mean “straight” rodeo events? It was the first time I’d ever heard of the gay rodeo. But, the moment I did, I immediately understood why the distinction was necessary. It was clear to me that a documentary would be far more meaningful than a scripted show. So, I quit my job, moved home with my parents and went on a three-year journey.

What was the biggest surprise you discovered making this film?

How hard it is making documentaries. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it more than I can articulate and want to make them for the rest of my life. But, it is a tremendously time consuming and sanity-testing endeavor. I have only my own limited experience, but I imagine making the first documentary has to be the most challenging thing a filmmaker will face in his or her career. But, it may also prove to be the most rewarding.

I came away realizing that the cowboy code is a real thing and is still alive and well in this country – characters in “Queens & Cowboys” each exude virtues that our nation traditionally bestows upon the iconic cowboy. Backbone traits like bravery, heart, integrity, charity and hard work. It’s inspiring to see a group like the IGRA; so full of love and universal acceptance – they are unlike any group I’ve ever encountered. It’s not some pipe dream. It works for some and it could work for all.

Can you tell us a little bit about your film career (past and going forward)?

My grandfather was in the movies. He won three Oscars in sound engineering. He was a genius; loved the technical side of things. The love of his movies and all movies in general, was sort of ingrained into me all my life. My dad would usually play classics like “The Shaggy Dog” and “Swiss Family Robinson.” I fell in love with making reel to reel VHS videos and stop motion clips with my friends in middle school.

Later, I worked at Creative Artists Agency after college and learned a lot about the film market – the trends, what people are looking for. When I moved into development at Marc Forster’s then company, Apparatus, I learned about story structure. Both lessons, which are invaluable to me as a director. I now edit for a living, doing branded commercials for clients such as Sony, EA and XBOX and I am pursuing other documentaries.

How has making Queens & Cowboys changed you and/or your perception of the LGBT community?

It made me realize that homophobia isn’t as blatant or news-headline-worthy as I once believed. There is subtle, insidious homophobia happening every day – maybe it’s a waiter avoiding your table or a glance you get on the bus. Even when it’s not happening, the mere fear of being marginalized can cause a damaging amount of anxiety.

It made me consider sexuality, a topic I don’t think the straight community is always so comfortable talking about. Being a straight man at the gay rodeo, I was suddenly the minority; it was the first time I had to give any thought about my own sexuality and the fact that it could unwittingly work against me. As a filmmaker, you have to earn the deepest trust with your subjects. I feared that people in the IGRA would not accept me because of something as trivial as my sexuality. I luckily didn’t find that to be the case with a group as accepting as the gay rodeo, but initially, my fear of unintentionally offending or threatening someone with my “straightness” was enough to stifle my behavior and question the appearance I was giving off.

I’m not trying to overstate this by saying I now somehow understand even remotely how difficult and complex it can be to come out to society. I think even on the small scale, it was something that was important for me to experience in order to better empathize with my subjects.
This year’s Palm Springs International Film Festival awards gala will be held Sunday, January 11, with top films being shown Monday, January 12.
The top awards, the coveted Desert Palm Achievement Award, will go to Eddie Redmayne, for a career of acting achievement and his performance in “The Theory of Everything.” Julianne Moore will also be receiving the same award for a career of acting achievements.

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