Cary Cronenwett first heard the cinematic call in 1998. He was volunteering at Frameline, the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, and caught an experimental film, Dandy Dust, by Austrian director A. Hans Schierl. "That made me think, 'Wow I could make a film.' I think it's a natural reaction that everybody has after watching a shorts program. I was like, 'I'll make something five minutes [long] it'll be really cool!'"
As Cronenwett soon realized, nothing is easy when it comes to filmmaking. In 2003, after more than a year of work, Phineas Slipped, a 16-minute short about daydreaming schoolboys, screened at Frameline. One of Phineas Slipped's main characters is played by Stormy Henry Knight, who also stars in Cronenwett's debut feature, Maggots and Men. Earlier this year, Cronenwett described Knight to Guardian writer Matt Sussman as "the transgender Matt Dillon" and the principle Maggots cast is composed of similarly hunky FTM actors, along with a handful of women and biological men (including a Lenin lookalike). The story is based on the real-life Kronstadt Rebellion of 1921, in which a group of sailors organized an ultimately unsuccessful revolt against the Bolshevik government. The style is reminiscent of Russian director Sergei Eisenstein's most famous film, a chapter of which gave Maggots its title.
"I hadn't seen Battleship Potemkin  when I had the idea [for Maggots and Men]," Cronenwett admits. "My interest was making a sailor movie and playing with the masculine icon. I wanted to do something that was really romantic and took place in a different time and place."
Five years in the making including time spent studying filmmaking at City College of San Francisco the work was first seen by Bay Area audiences as a short film at Frameline 2008. The final, 53-minute version unspooled at Frameline 2009; Cronenwett credits San Francisco's vast DIY and artistic networks with helping him get to the finish line: "Different people got excited about the project for different reasons. Some people were drawn because they're interested in Russian history, [or] Super 8 special effects. And then we had trans guys who were interested in working with other trans guys on an art project, which was exciting."
The film's revolutionary ideas extend beyond historical reenactment. "The film contextualizes the movement for transgender equality in a larger social justice movement," Cronenwett wrote in a post-interview e-mail. "It's about hope, a vision. It's about the corruption of power and a system that crushes its opposition. It's about wanting more from society."
>>GOLDIES 2009: The 21st Guardian Outstanding Local Discovery awards, honoring the Bay's best in arts