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‘Man Made’ documentary a ‘snapshot of lives in transition’

Contributed • Oct 22, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Four years ago, Trans FitCon, the only all-transgender bodybuilding competition in the world, emerged in Atlanta, in the hopes of uniting the transgender community and providing a safe and healthy space to compete. This one-of-a-kind bodybuilding competition is what inspired best-selling author, TV writer, journalist and director T Cooper to make the documentary “Man Made.”

“Man Made” is a character driven, fly-on-the-wall style documentary that focuses on not only the subjects’ physical transitions from female to male, but also their mental and emotional journeys. It dives deep into the world of the bodybuilding transgender community and everyday struggles with body acceptance, transitioning and love.

On Monday, Oct. 22, at 7 p.m. in East Tennessee State University’s Brown Hall auditorium, the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts will present a screening of the award-winning documentary as part of the South Arts Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers. The screening is free and open to the public and will be followed by a question-and-answer session and reception with Cooper.

This “sensitive snapshot of four lives in transition,” as The Hollywood Reporter terms it, introduces audiences to: Dominic, who won third place in last year’s competition, just months after undergoing breast surgery; Rese, a father to a 5-year-old boy to whom he gave birth, who is periodically homeless because shelters turn him away due to his trans identity; Mason, who lives with bipolar disorder and was at times suicidal until he transitioned and found bodybuilding; and Kennie, who decided he wanted to officially begin his transition at last year’s competition and is now taking testosterone treatments.

Cooper, in an interview with Film Inquiry, says he picked his subjects out of the 12 men participating in the event because “It was really important to me to show a diversity of trans lives, trans bodies and trans experiences, because there’s no one way to transition.”

“I just don’t think there’s a ton known about trans men,” says Cooper, a transgender man himself.

Cooper – author of eight novels, articles in The New Yorker, Esquire and The Guardian and writer for “The Get Down” on Netflix – first heard about the bodybuilding competition shortly after moving to Atlanta and envisioned creating a story about the event. After spending more time with the subjects, Cooper made the decision to turn the story into his first feature-length documentary.

“I believe that this project and ones like it are more vital than ever,” Cooper says. “‘Man Made’ is unabashedly trans-made, offering unique and relevant transgender stories, which emerge from the inside out, as opposed to from the outside looking in.”

Cooper’s longtime friend and executive producer of the film, actress Téa Leoni, says she was awestruck watching a rough cut of the film. “I was taken with the whole metaphoric theme of making your body and creating your image to be how you see yourself and I was so taken with these individuals,” Leoni says in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.

“Man Made” premiered at this year’s Atlanta Film Festival and won best documentary feature, as well as best documentary honors at Translations Film Festival Seattle, QFilms Long Beach Film Festival and the North Louisiana Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. The documentary was also awarded the Fox Inclusion Award at Outfest Los Angeles.

“What was so powerful about this film was to see what happens to relationships between partners or family members with these transgender men, and that was so striking to me when I watched the film,” said Anita DeAngelis, director of the Martin School of the Arts. “It was something I hadn’t really given much thought to previously. So, I’m thankful for films like this that open us up to new ideas and understanding.”

The men of “Man Made” are undergoing the biggest change of their lives and are finally learning to accept themselves and their new lifestyles, as well as their new bodies.

“There’s a version of this hyper-Adonis, Arnold-looking masculinity that was so pervasive, even in the so-called natural bodybuilding,” Cooper tells OUT Magazine. “What was so mind-blowing to me was how everybody, and literally everybody, was celebrated [at Trans FitCon] and welcome to show off wherever their bodies were in this journey. That notion of meeting people where they are is a universal value that I hope we can all aspire to.

“It’s so nice to see people’s hearts open up after they see the film. I feel like I’ve learned something every time we’ve shown it.”

For more information, call the Martin School of the Arts at 423-439-8587 or visit www.etsu.edu/martin. For disability accommodations, call the ETSU Office of Disability Services at 423-439-8346.

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