Being tossed from a red-carpet event at Cannes was hurtful, but if some increased awareness of the ties between Indigenous culture and dress comes of it, Kelvin Redvers will take it.
The Vancouver filmmaker was at the world-famous film festival last week when he was thrown out of an event because of his footwear: a pair of moccasins. Organizers apologized the next day, allowed the moccasins, and promised to revisit how they implement their formal dress code.
“To be honest, it was a really tough day,” said Redvers, who returned from France last Thursday. “It took awhile for me to process.
“It stings. It’s loaded with a whole bunch of cultural context of what it means to have your cultural wear taken away. But it’s been incredible to me this type of worldwide response to the story.”
Since the event, Redvers has been interviewed by Variety, Vogue, Al Jazeera, British newspapers, the Hollywood Reporter, you name it. Even small-town papers such as the Stettler (Alberta) Independent.
Redvers is Dene on his mother’s side (his father is non-Indigenous), and he was at Cannes as part of a six-member delegation there to network, sponsored by Capilano University’s FILMBA program, the Indigenous Screen Office, and Telefim.
He did not travel to Cannes to make a fuss.
“I literally thought that I would just quietly wear my pair of moccasins that are really meaningful, that are formal and have ceremony aspects within my community. But I would wear them in this formal setting and walk down the red carpet and have a photo or two, and be proud of that.”
Growing up in the Northwest Territories, Redvers engaged with Dene culture by spending time on the land, and through Dene clothing such as mukluks and moccasins.
They were usually handmade by family members, a practice found pretty much in every North American Indigenous community. Moccasins not only protect the soles of the feet and provided warmth, they could signify where their wearer was from, their status, even their personal experiences through the quill- and beadwork, embroidery and decorations.
They are worn by dancers at powwow ceremonies, are part of traditional regalia, and given as gifts.
“They are sacred objects that have sacred meanings,” Redvers said. “Colonization has taken away a lot of things, and often clothing was one of the things that got taken away.
“The moccasin is one of those things that has survived the test of time in so many different cultures across North America.”
The Cannes debacle exposed a hypocrisy in a system that has compromised to allow kilts, turbans, saris and other cultural forms of clothes into the roped-off areas. Even women wearing flats are now being allowed, since Julia Roberts, Kristen Stewart and other mega-stars have showed up on the red carpet barefoot.
Redvers was told that if he had shown up in full regalia he would have been admitted without causing a ripple.
“It’s interesting because there’s an expectation as to what traditional wear looks like,” Redvers said. “If it’s a headdress and a loin cloth, that’s sort of the vision of what people might think Indigenous people should look like.”
Not only is it a stereotype, an Indigenous filmmaker would not show up in full regalia to something like a movie showing at Cannes.
“Full regalia is not always appropriate in all circumstances,” Redvers said. “For one, you’re just an audience member at a movie.”
He would have preferred not to have become the focus of attention.
“But having had that, being able to have thousands of people now thinking about this conversation … I think these are meaningful conversations to be had. If it turns into something positive where it creates space for more inclusion in the future, then I think that’s a really important outcome.”