A Vancouver-based Indigenous film producer says he was treated like he was “trying to steal something” after being turned away from a red carpet event at the Cannes Film Festival because he was wearing a pair of traditional moccasins.
Kelvin Redvers, a member of the Dene Nation from the North West Territories, was at the festival with a group of six Indigenous filmmakers in a business program at Capilino University, with the backing of the Indigenous Screen Office and Telefilm.
On Sunday, he was invited Sunday to a red carpet screening of Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s Les Amandiers, where he planned to wear a formal black suit and bowtie, along with a pair of moccasins hand-made by his sister.
Redvers said that the team of mentors he was travelling with had explained that despite the festival’s ultra-strict dress code, there were allowances for cultural formalwear.
“I 100 per cent showed up expecting that this was within the realm of the things they (would) allow,” Redvers told Global News.
“As a Dene filmmaker, moccasins are a huge part of our culture. They’re ceremonial, they can be quite special, so if you are going to have a kilt allowed for someone who is Scottish, the equivalent would be a pair of moccasins for someone who is Dene.”
Redvers said he went through the first of several red carpet checkpoints wearing a pair of regular shoes, not wanting to damage the moccasins. But once he swapped them on, staff were quick to react.
“Almost instantly, someone comes and says, ‘No, no no.'” he said.
The issue was escalated to higher-level festival staff, with a French-speaking member of his producer group trying to explain the situation to no avail.
“Eventually there was one security guard there, who I guess just broke or snapped or whatever, and he is a large intimidating human. (He) turned on me and essentially demanded immediately that I leave,” he said.
“After being excited for weeks to bring my culture to this red carpet event and to be told ‘get out, this isn’t welcome here’, is something that stings, and it still stings.”
Redvers left the site, and after processing the incident changed back to his leather shoes and was allowed to enter the screening.
But he said his team stood up for him and pressed the issue with festival organizers. They listened and arranged a meeting the following day with the secretary general of the festival, one of the heads of the red carpet and representatives of the Indigenous Screen Office and Telefilm.
“He apologized for the way the security person had treated me and we had a discussion,” he said. “But even then, they were expressing hesitation about understanding this pair of moccasins, why it was formalwear.”
The Indigenous Screen Office offered to help educate festival organizers about the importance of cultural formalwear such as moccasins or ribbon skirts, he said.
As a result of the meeting, he was also invited to a red carpet screening of Canadian director David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future on Monday, this time, with the moccasins. At the checkpoint, he initially met resistance once again, which was overruled by a higher-level staffer, he said.
“That was my favourite part of the festival, to be able to go from, ‘No, no, no,’ to hey, ‘Yes, these are OK for this reason, here’s what they represent, here’s what they are to us and to our culture, so you may enter.'”
In a statement, Kerry Swanson, co-executive director of the Indigenous Screen Office said she was pleased festival organizers had been willing to listen.
“The Indigenous delegation had an incredibly positive experience at Cannes so it was disappointing to see a delegate turned away at a red carpet event,” she said.
“The Cannes leadership responded swiftly and we greatly appreciated the end result, and the opportunity to exchange dialogue and cultural understanding. We look forward to continuing our presence at the festival.”
Global News has requested comment from the Cannes Film Festival.
While the red carpet incident has generated international attention, Redvers said it overshadowed what was otherwise a very successful trip.
He said his six-member cohort was given a chance to “sit at the table” and meet with movers and shakers from the business side of the film world.
Redvers is currently working on financing his next feature film, described as an $8-million Indigenous rooftop hostage thriller, and said he was able to make connections and build momentum for the project.
“In addition to the festival, there’s a huge film market, so a ton of business happens…at Cannes when it comes to sales agents and distributors and that kind of thing,” he said.
Back in Vancouver, Redvers said he hopes the red carpet experience can help spark discussions about cultural recognition and potentially lead to change.
He pointed to the 2015 backlash the festival faced after turning away women for wearing flat shoes instead of heels, a policy that later changed.
“The more folks can be educated about what those things are, the easier it is to make those decision in the moment to say, ‘Oh, that’s OK, let it through,'” he said.
“And that I think is our goal — to be able to have those conversations.”