“Man Made” is the latest documentary from director T Cooper. It tells the stories of four extraordinary transgenders who are preparing themselves for the Trans FitCon competition. We get to see the emotional impact being transgender has on their lives but also on the ones of their friends, family and loved ones.
T Cooper takes you on an emotional rollercoaster. Right from the first hormone injection all to the way to the Trans FitCon competition. Liselotte Vanophem sat down with him and talked about this important documentary, the remarkable people and what’s next for him.
Liselotte Vanophem: Hi T, how are you doing?
TC: Great, thank you for asking! Feeling excited about Man Made finally making its way out into the world.
LV: Congratulations on your very unique documentary. In “Man Made” we follow four transgender bodybuilders during their work outs and lives. How did you come across them?
TC: I found out about these guys when I saw a photo of the very first Trans FitCon in Atlanta, and I was immediately drawn to the competitors who were on a small stage posing in front of the gathered crowd at a small bar in Midtown. What was so intriguing to me was the various diverse expressions of masculinity that were on display and how all expressions were accepted and celebrated within the context of the competition.
LV: What was their reaction when you told them that you wanted to make a documentary about them?
TC: Everybody whom I approached was really eager for their stories to get out there in the world, because I think collectively we as trans guys feel that three-dimensional, honest portraits of our lives are still sorely lacking in the transgender storytelling landscape. If anybody (who was not a main subject) was at all leery, for whatever reason (not out to friends/family/work, etc), I was careful to make sure that they would not be included on camera in any way.
But the main subjects, whom I followed and filmed (for about a year and a half), were really psyched to be a part of the project and all said they would not have been interested in doing so unless it was being made by a transgender filmmaker, who would inherently understand many aspects of their lives right from the jump.
LV: They’re giving the entire world a very exclusive look into their lives. How hard/easy was it for them to open up about that?
TC: I would ask the guys about this because of course my positioning behind the camera is very different from theirs in front of the lens…. But I think that it is always hard to open one’s life and innermost goings-on to strangers. The person behind the camera is becoming a trusted friend and very much isn’t a stranger. I respect all of the guys so much for their boldness in sharing their lives because I truly think other people’s lives have been and will hopefully continue to be changed by the generosity of the subjects in this film.
LV: Did they already see the documentary? If so, how did they react to it?
TC: Everybody has already seen the film. We toured the world with it on the film festival circuit and appeared at more than 75 festivals. All subjects have attended various festivals and taken part in talk-backs after screenings. I think it’s always a mixed-bag to see your story being told on a larger scale than the one-to-one intimate moments of “real” life, but yeah, the guys seemed really to enjoy the film, and were admittedly really emotional, especially during the first few times they watched it.
LV: If you now look back at “Man Made”, what’s the moment that’s the most emotional and gripping to you?
TC: I think the sense of completion, for me as a director and producer, is always emotional and fulfilling. I feel proud of the guys, and proud of the team that made this film actually happen. It’s such a constant uphill journey (carrying giant boulders) to make and complete an indie documentary, so there is a persistent feeling of relief that it’s out there, we did it, and that people are being touched by the lives and journeys of the subjects of the film.
As for specific scenes, there are always ones that get me in my gut, and even after maybe a thousand times seeing these scenes in real life, through edit, revisions, and then in festival screenings, I still get teary eyed. The ones with Kennie’s mom; when Mason is talking about his relationship with Anne; Dom seeing himself for the first time after surgery; Rese talking about his friend who was just murdered in an act of transphobic violence. So many…
LV: What do you hope that people will take away with them after they’ve seen “Man Made”?
TC: I just feel like this film offers several ways “in” to considering trans lives that might be different from your own. Through the guys in the film, their relatives, loved ones, friends, co-workers, etc…., the audience walks in the shoes of so many different types of people in various situations.
LV: This documentary was already screened at many different festivals and already won multiple awards such as the ‘Best Documentary Feature’ at the Atlanta Film Festival 2018 and the ‘Outstanding Documentary Feature’ during the L.A. Outfest 2018. How does it feel for you that your documentary is being recognized all over the world?
TC: It is a gift when anybody watches the film.
LV: Do you already have more projects coming up?
TC: I actually just directed a music video that will be coming out in March. I cast 25 trans people in the film, and our entire crew (with two exceptions) was either LBGTQ, of color, or women and literally every single person you will see on screen in this video (even in the background), will be trans. I will be editing that over the next couple weeks, and really excited to share that story, too. I’m also continuing to work as a consulting producer and writer on “The Blacklist” and of course teaching writing (television and fiction writing) at Emory University in Atlanta.