Matt Livadary, Director/Writer/Producer/Co-Editor of Queens & Cowboys: 2014 Heartland Film Festival Interview

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Matt Livadary is a passionate filmmaker and a Los Angeles native. After earning his BA from USC’s Cinema School, he worked for several years at the prestigious Creative Artists Agency, for clients such as Ang Lee, Spike Jonze and Cameron Crowe. In 2008, Matt worked as a story editor alongside acclaimed director Marc Forster at the production company Apparatus. While working on Queens & Cowboys, he has also made a name for himself creating content for clients including Sony, EA and Comedy Central. A “deep and wide” filmmaker, Matt possesses a talent for showcasing sentimental and broadly appealing content; particularly utilizing playful themes, passionate optimism and nostalgia to connect with his audience—a filmmaker unafraid to show the size of his heart onscreen.

HFF: What is your film about, and how did the project come to be?

ML: Queens & Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo is a documentary about members of the International Gay Rodeo Association, a 30 year old association that hosts rodeos all across North America. The film follows four individuals as they strive to earn a spot in the world gay rodeo finals while battling challenges both in and out of the arena.

I’ve been a fan of rodeo since I was three years old when my dad took me to my first rodeo in Cody, Wyoming. It was eye opening for a city kid from Los Angeles. So ultimately when I was working in development at a production company in Hollywood, I wanted to set a scripted TV show in the world of rodeo. So I went on a research trip to a dozen or so rodeos across the country. Rodeo was simultaneously as exciting as I’d remembered as a child but unfortunately struck me as a very homogenous sport, one that makes anyone who isn’t a true blooded “cowboy” feel like an outsider.

Along that trip I also learned of the existence of gay rodeo, and immediately it was a story I had to tell. But this one had to be a documentary – I knew a true story about brave cowboys and cowgirls competing in an institution that traditionally shunned them would be far more compelling than any story I could ever script. So I left my job and moved home with my parents for 3 years in order to make it happen (and learn how the hell one actually makes a documentary…).

HFF: What was your role in the production?

ML: For much of the production, I was the director, producer, camera operator, sound guy, clearances dude, travel coordinator, researcher, editor and transcriber. Finally, I had the smarts to beg for producer Erin Krozek’s help as well as enlist my dear friend Tim Strube to help edit the film and the unmatchably talented composer Joachim Cooder to compose one of the most moving scores I’ve ever heard. I started the project thinking I could manage everything, but without the help of some incredible friends the film never would have gotten finished.

HFF: Why did you submit to the Heartland Film Festival? Have you been to the Festival before?

ML: Heartland has an amazing reputation in the film community as a filmmakers festival. I’ve been fortunate to attend dozens of festivals, and it’s very clear which ones have other priorities. But getting to be a part of Heartland is a dream come true, and I can’t wait to enjoy it in Indianapolis.

HFF: This year’s tagline is “Shift Your Perspective” – what lasting effect will your film have on moviegoers?

ML: First of all, what a perfect theme for our film! Most people (myself included) have no idea that gay rodeo even exists, and it creates all of these expectations in people. I remember after our very first test screening the room got really quiet.  No one wanted to be the first to speak up – then finally one person goes “It wasn’t… as gay as I thought it was going to be?” The room immediately exhaled in laughter, everyone agreed, and it started this amazing discussion about the expectations each of us have when we hear something is “gay.” I wanted this film to bridge the gap between the LGBT and straight communities and begin to smash stereotypes that exist in popular media – much like the courageous International Gay Rodeo Association does on a daily basis merely by existing. I’m a straight filmmaker, and I found myself identifying with every character in the film for so many more important reasons than one’s sexual orientation. And I hope this same message finds audiences in Heartland and beyond.

HFF: What has inspired you to become a filmmaker?

ML: I love story telling. My parents believed in reading stories to me and my sisters every night when I was a little kid, and I devoured fables—Kind Arthur, Greek mythology. When I first picked up a camera and realized that with two VCRs I could edit videos with my friends in middle school, I was completely hooked to the idea that I could convey stories using technology, and I never turned back.

HFF: What is something that you know about filmmaking now but you weren’t told when you started your career?

ML: Embrace failure. You’ll fail far more times than you ever succeed. You will want to give up, you’ll want to crawl into a hole, you’ll be tempted to veer the car over the lane line on your way home from the edit bay – but if you keep going back, if you HAVE to keep going back, then you are telling a story that not only deserves telling but one that is crucial to who you are as a person. Finishing Queens & Cowboys was like shedding a skin I had in order to evolve as a person. This might sound incredibly dramatic, but I believe the struggle, the battle with the unknown, is a necessary part of doing anything that’s meaningful, and I wouldn’t change any part of it.

HFF: What are some of your favorite movies? What’s your favorite worst movie (you know it’s bad, but still love it)?

ML: Oh man. My all time favorite movie is Back to the Future – the script is so tight; the story is so fun and engaging.  I’ve watched the whole series dozens of times. As far as docs go, I absolutely love King Kong, Man on Wire, and anything edited by Geoffrey Richman (The Cove, Murderball, etc).

As far as bad movies, I don’t think Tarsem’s The Fall is a “bad” movie, but I absolutely love it and can’t understand how it didn’t blow the world away. But if we’re talking about BAD movies, I think Run Ronnie Run is a guilty pleasure my friends and I can’t stop quoting (“YOU put down the goat!”)

HFF: How many film festivals has your film been a part of? What do you like the most about the festival experience?

ML: We’ve been lucky to play at perhaps 15-20 festivals so far this year. Seeing people get introduced to the International Gay Rodeo for the first time is one of the greatest feelings, because it’s an organization that is very difficult NOT to fall in love with. We’ve had homophobes cry and come clean by the end of the film and give the main characters all hugs. We’ve had teenagers come out on Facebook immediately after seeing the bravery of some of the subjects in the film.  It’s been a phenomenal experience all around.

HFF: Heartland Film Festival moviegoers love filmmaker Q&As. Let’s say a Festival attendee wants to earn some brownie points—what is a question that you’d love to answer, but haven’t yet been asked?

ML: Tell me everything.


See Queens & Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo at the 2014 Heartland Film Festival:

  • Monday, Oct. 20 – 5:15 pm at AMC Castleton Square 14
  • Wednesday, Oct. 22 -3:00 pm at AMC Castleton Square 14
  • Friday, Oct. 24 – 11:30 am at AMC Traders Point Showplace 12
  • Saturday, Oct. 25 – 7:30 pm at AMC Traders Point Showplace 12
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