South Florida audiences will be among the first to view a new documentary about the gay rodeo lifestyle, “Queens and Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo Circuit.”
The film, the culmination of more than four years of fundraising and production, will be screened Thursday at The Classic Gateway to kick-off the 2014 Sunshine Stampede and raise funds for a Florida charity that provides equine therapy for children with serious medical conditions.
Filmmaker Matt Livadary originally set his sights on a scripted television show about the rodeo circuit. He had always been fascinated with rodeo and other “antiquated” forms of entertainment that have remained relatively unchanged over the century, like the circus. He envisioned a show “like Friday Night Lights, but set at the rodeo,” he said, “focusing on American values and the grit of what our country is.”
“It was fascinating….the culture, the families, the dress. It’s bad ass and dangerous and kind of insane that this sport still exists in modern times,” Livadary said in a telephone interview early in the process.
While in Colorado, he noticed a number of gay couples in the crowd at a local rodeo and “started chatting them up.” He learned that there was a gay rodeo circuit in the United States and immediately realized his scripted show didn’t have the potential of a documentary about gay rodeo.
Livadary had already faced a little culture shock on the straight circuit — he found himself ridiculed for arriving in a Toyota and once wearing khakis — but he wasn’t quite prepared for the gay rodeo.
“I was really surprised. Despite the drag queens and the campy events, it’s a regular rodeo,” Livadary said. “I was expecting some parody of rodeo, but it’s totally not that. The cowboys and cowgirls are good and talented.”
In fact, he discovered many of the most experienced gay cowboys and cowgirls also compete on the straight rodeo circuit, although some are not open about their sexuality due to the conservative culture.
What impressed him most about gay rodeos was the volunteer spirit, with each event drawing hundreds of volunteers and proceeds benefitting charity.
One of the gay rodeo competitors Livadary encountered in his travels was Todd Garrett, a rancher who lives in Mayakkahead, between Bradenton and Sarasota on the historic Cracker Trail and founder of the Florida Gay Rodeo Association.
Livadary and Garrett became good friends after filming an interview in 2011 at the International Gay Rodeo finals, a relationship that would grow over the ensuing three years.
“This whole movie — some people call it the documentary version of “Brokeback Mountain” — believe it or not, that’s actually true. We’re a normal group of people — a family — and (the film) shares our stories,” Garrett pointed out. “It’s an in depth look at the country western lifestyle. A lot of us don’t live in the cities.”
In addition to the Sunshine Stampede, Livadary interviewed competitors from California, Arizona, Arizona, North Dakota, Kansas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia and Calgary, Canada at other regional rodeos.
The film got its world premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and this weekend, it will be seen for the first time at festivals in Sonoma, Dallas and Atlanta. The filmmaker is making a special trip to Fort Lauderdale for this week’s screening, a nod to his friendship with Garrett and support for FGRA and its charity.
Livadary summed up his experience, “….no matter how open-minded we might consider ourselves, we can all use more exposure to lifestyles and cultures that differ from our own. My goal is to deliver this exposure through the unexpected impact the IGRA has made on my life in this uniquely American adventure. I hope to tell a rich story that provides the same eye-opening experience to a global audience, both LGBT and straight.”
If You Go:
What: “Queens and Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo Circuit”
A film by Matt Livadary
When: Thursday, April 3, 7:30 p.m.
Where: The Classic Gateway Theatre, 1820 Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Cost: Tickets $25 at FGRA.org