‘I Didn’t See You There’ introduces Sundance Film Festival audiences to the discrimination people with disabilities face
Documentary is Reid Davenport’s first feature-length film
The title of Reid Davenport’s Sundance Film Festival documentary is “I Didn’t See You There,” and it is shot from his perspective of being in a wheelchair.
Davenport, an award-winning filmmaker who tells stories about people with disabilities from their perspectives, is a visibility disabled person himself, and moves around his Oakland, California, neighborhood by wheelchair.
The film is not only shot from his wheelchair, but also addresses some things that other people with disabilities face — condescending treatment by others, being ignored, unsolicited assumptions that they always need assistance and being nonchalantly dismissed by those who block or hinder their access to buildings and public transportation.
“I really wanted this to be a collage film,” Davenport said. “I wanted to explore all of these different themes and put them in a distinct verse.”
In the film, which runs about 90 minutes, Davenport continually references freak shows, where people who were different were put on display for the amusement of the general public, in reference to how people tend to view people with disabilities.
“I’ve always had this tie with the freak show, especially as a filmmaker who uses his perspective as a disabled person in his work,” he said. “Not all of those performers had agency.”
“I Didn’t See You There” took a serendipitous turn when a big-top circus tent popped up across the street from Davenport’s apartment complex during the filming.
“I just started shooting it, because it was gorgeous and bizarre and spectacular and surreal,” he said. “When the circus tent went up, I didn’t know if it would be a theme, but I wanted to make sure I got it.”
Driving the freak show theme home was Davenport’s own connection with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus founder P.T. Barnum.
Barnum hails from Davenport’s hometown of Bethel, Connecticut.
“We were taught to revere P.T. Barnum, growing up in Bethel,” Davenport said. “But as a disabled person, when I found what P.T. Barnum did to all of these people who were historically marginalized, that vision of him shifted around quickly and dramatically.”
Davenport praised his editor, Todd Chandler, for crafting the film.
“He’s also a musician, and I think he crafted this film like a song,” Davenport said. “He was able to accentuate the aesthetics that I wanted, and also put his own mark on it. That is what collaborative filmmaking is all about.”
Davenport, a co-founder of Through My Lens, which teaches students with and without disabilities how to collaboratively make films, tells his mother in one segment of the film that
“I Didn’t See You There” would be the last film he makes from personal experiences.
“It was difficult to make this feature-length film about myself, and I think there are so many stories (about others) that need to be framed in a political narrative about disability that I want to make,” he said.
Davenport sees disability as a political identity, and not a medical diagnosis.
“It is a group of people who are marginalized by society,” he said. “I don’t become disabled because I use a wheelchair. I’m disabled when someone doesn’t put up a ramp.”
Davenport’s filmmaking career started 10 years ago when he released his breakout documentary short, “Wheelchair Diaries: One Step Up,” while he was an undergraduate at George Washington University.
“When I was in college, I was supposed to study abroad for a semester in Europe,” he said. “I was fully discouraged, because it was totally inaccessible. So I got the idea to make a documentary about accessibility in Europe.”
Davenport continued exploring different ways of filmmaking after he graduated.
“Three years ago, I started bouncing around about shooting stuff about my daily life and here we are with the film in the can,” he said.
“I Didn’t See You There” is Davenport’s first feature-length film, and he is honored to show it during the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
“It’s wild, and I don’t think I have even begun to process it,” he said. “It’s incredible and this film is unconventional so to have Sundance behind it and giving it that stamp of approval and hopefully having that propel people to watch it is incredible and pivotal for a film like this.”
“I Didn’t See You There,” part of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, will be available for virtual on-demand screening from 11:45 a.m.-2:45 p.m . on Jan. 24. The film will be available to stream for 24 hours starting at 8 a.m. on Jan. 26.
BalletNext opens the curtain on “Nutcracker’s Greatest Hits,” which features a Park City twist, on Wednesday.
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