Clark Collis
April 16, 2018 AT 03:00 PM EDT

The new documentary Man Made follows a group of transgender men as they get ready to compete at Atlanta’s TransFitCon, the world’s first trans bodybuilding competition. The movie, which will receive its world premiere at the Atlanta Film Festival on April 22, is directed by novelist T Cooper and executive-produced by actress Téa Leoni (Madam Secretary).

“I moved to Atlanta about four years ago and through the grapevine, I heard about this bodybuilding competition for transgender men,” says Cooper. “I thought, ‘Wow, I want to write about this,’ because it’s been my go-to medium. So, I actually pitched it to a couple of places, and people were definitely interested, but once I started spending time with these guys, it just felt like it needed to be more than two-dimensional. I just got in there, and threw a camera on my shoulder, and took off. Once I started looking at footage, I was like, ‘Okay, this has to be a feature.'”

Cooper was encouraged to make the film by Leoni, a longtime friend.

“I met T years ago [but] had not heard him lit up like this about something, maybe ever,” says the actress. “Because I got a call very early on about it, the first part of my involvement was just encouragement. I knew the film had to be made and I knew he had to make it. The beginning of my involvement was just really insisting that T do this, and that I would help in any way that I could, and that ballooned into talking to some other people and being able to come back to T and say, ‘There’s a lot of interest in this.'”

Man Made uses the bodybuilding competition as an opportunity to explore the lives and stories of Cooper’s subjects. How did the newbie director go about earning the trust of the men?

“Yeah, that’s a good question,” says Cooper. “I think that being trans myself was very important to the subjects. There was an instant rapport with them. There was just this mutual trust and respect that I was going to tell these stories with so much care as though it was my own, because it is my own.”

Leoni recalls that she felt a mix of emotions when she saw a rough cut of the film.

“I was sort of awestruck,” she says. “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. For me, personally, by the end of it, I was outraged by how far behind we are in the most basic human decent progression. There is resistance to people who are simply just trying to exist in the world, to coexist. It motivated me, and I hope that it will motivate other people, to continue these kinds of discussions, and to expand their compassion to those who are different. This is an important story. Frankly, it was really, truly a deep honor to be involved.”

Man Made will receive its world premiere at the Atlanta Film Festival, April 22. Watch an exclusive teaser for the film, above.

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