Guelph's Michael Del Monte wins big at Hot Docs with Transformer

Documentary filmmaker Michael Del Monte says he wanted to show the struggles faced by a former U.S. Marine and award winning body builder as she transitioned from a man to a woman.

'Janae was very vulnerable in this film. She's totally open. She's fully exposed,' director says

Transformer recently won the Rogers Audience Award for Best Canadian Documentary. And also won the Emerging Canadian Filmmaker Award at the Toronto Hot Docs film festival. It took home awards in the same category in the fall of 2017 at the Austin Film Festival, where it premiered. (Jessica Gliesman/Twitter)

It would have been easy to sensationalize the story of Janae Kroczaleski, a former U.S. Marine and award-winning body builder who never felt comfortable in her body.

But director Michael Del Monte said he didn't want to focus on her sexuality or body parts when it came to explaining Janae's transition from a man to a woman in Del Monte's documentary, Transformer.

"I felt a lot of responsibility, to be honest, to do the story right because I knew we had the opportunity to reach a lot of people," Del Monte said.

"Janae was very vulnerable in this film. She's totally open. She's fully exposed."

In the summer of 2015, then known as Matt "Kroc" Kroczaleski, Janae was publicly outed as being transgender. This led to sponsors dropping her, and she was banned from competing. 

Transformer recently won the Rogers audience award for Best Canadian Documentary and also won the emerging Canadian filmmaker award at the Toronto Hot Docs film festival. 

It took home awards in the same category in the fall of 2017 at the Austin Film Festival when it premiered.

Individualize, not generalize

Del Monte, who is originally from Guelph and is now based in Toronto, said he told Janae he wanted to "focus on the person."

"This is you and your sons, this is you and your parents as you meet them for the first time," Del Monte said. 

"I think if we can show the heart of somebody who is deeply struggling with this, we're going to be able to reach way more people than just the LBGTQ community."

Del Monte said he has been approached by people from both the LGBTQ community and conservative Christians who thanked him for making the film.

"[This film] challenges everybody's way of thinking. It's going to make you think about this subject differently. It's going to make you not think of it as a subject, it's going to make you think of them as people," he said.

"It's going to make you individualize as opposed to generalize."

Transformer is scheduled to get wider release later this year. Transformer was presented in association with the CBC Documentary Channel.