Every once in awhile a documentary is produced that so wonderfully follows its subjects, one feels that a genuine friendship is forged between viewer and those filmed. Watching the beautiful screener of Queens & Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo, this felt aptly so, and this month Calgarian viewers will be afforded the same experience at the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF).

Queens & Cowboys chronicles a full season with the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA), zooming in on a heart-of-gold all around cowboy, a tenacious lesbian bull rider, a trans cowboy in California, the only out cowboy hailing from his small town, as well as a straight cowboy riding in the circuit.

Wade Earp, the first, dominates the piece with his gentle lilt, honest approach to the sport, and tender relationship to his ‘old dinosaur’ of a horse Digit. An actual descendent of famed Wyatt Earp, he embodies everything a born Albertan knows to be cowboy: determination, pragmatism, generosity, and exemplary manners. He is easy to root for, a solid anchor in this film that so tastefully and thoughtfully takes its viewers behind the scenes of an event that not everyone might understand.

Perhaps the most poignant point this film makes is that though sexual orientation or gender identity is so often used as a tool to marginalize, at the rodeo it plays no part. Gay, lesbian, trans or queer – these are cowboys and cowgirls above all else. The passionate conviction they have for both their sport and their rodeo family is noble and steadfast. Often hailing from small towns with narrow views, the IGRA has provided a home ground for these competitors to be absolutely themselves, for nearly 30 years now.

Sadly, the film touches on the unfortunate reality that the number of defunct gay rodeos is growing higher than the number still in place. Fundraising for these events is a mounting challenge. It is up to us to attend and show support so that gay rodeo may once again thrive. Indeed Calgary is noted in the movie; the only Canadian stop on the circuit.

To be out and proud is a challenge and feat of bravery in most of the world, no less so in the Wild West. Queens & Cowboys illustrates how true this is; how much further there is to go.

The film, by first-time director Matt Livadary (U.S.) is drawing attention at film festivals across North America this year, picking up Best Documentary and the Audience Choice award at the Santa Barbara International Film Fest, the Best Documentary Feature at the Arizona International Film Fest, the Audience Award at the Dallas International Film Fest, and the Best American Documentary Feature at the American Documentary Film Festival (just to name a few). The straight director felt impelled to make the film after meeting a lesbian couple in Colorado who told him about the IGRA. He knew nothing about making films, just that this one needed to be made.

He quit his job and set out following the circuit. Livadary thought he would be excluded by the gay rodeo community but, instead, found the opposite to be true. He told Enstars “It’s a family atmosphere and totally inclusive.”

He went on to say that the toughest part about making the film wasn’t sleeping with goats, showering with a bucket, or even watching ruthless bulls buck off his film subjects. It was when a man in Texas approached him, asking that he please not include him in the film as he was a teacher, and the rodeo was the only place he could be his real self.

“That underscored how hard it is to be gay and how the times still haven’t updated,” Livadary told the news source. “It’s hard to be a cowboy. It’s even harder to be a gay one.”

Queens & Cowboys makes its Canadian debut here in Calgary for two showings. Be sure to catch the noon hour if you intend to bring kids; after 6pm all showings at the Globe will be 18+ to facilitate alcohol sales.