‘I Didn’t See You There’ introduces Sundance Film Festival audiences to the discrimination faced by people with disabilities

Filmmaker Reid Davenport’s film ‘I Didn’t See You There’ is an Official Selection for the US Documentary Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. The film, which is shot from Davenport’s point of view from his wheelchair, tackles also the challenges that people with disabilities face on a daily basis.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute/photo by Reid Davenport.

The title of Reid Davenport’s Sundance Film Festival documentary “I Didn’t See You There” repeats a phrase he hears almost every day.

Davenport, an award-winning filmmaker who tells stories about people with disabilities from their perspective, is a disabled person himself and gets around his neighborhood in Oakland, California in a wheelchair.

The film is not only shot from his point of view, but also touches on some of the things that other people with disabilities face – condescending treatment by others, being ignored, unsolicited assumptions that they still need help, and being nonchalantly rejected by those who block or impede their access to buildings and public transport.

“I really wanted it to be a collage movie,” Davenport said. “I wanted to explore all of these different themes and put them into a separate verse.”

In the film, which is approximately 90 minutes long, Davenport continually references monster shows, where different people were on display for the general public’s enjoyment, in reference to how people tend to view people with disabilities.

“I’ve always had this connection to freak shows, especially as a filmmaker who uses his disability perspective in his work,” he said. “Not all of these artists had agencies.”

“I Didn’t See You There” took a fortuitous turn when a circus tent popped up across from the Davenport apartment complex during filming.

“I just started shooting it, because it was beautiful and weird and spectacular and surreal,” he said. “When the circus tent was put up, I didn’t know if it would be a theme, but I wanted to make sure I got it.”

Davenport’s own connection to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus founder PT Barnum drove the freak show theme home.

Barnum hails from Davenport’s hometown of Bethel, Connecticut.

“We were taught to revere PT Barnum, growing up in Bethel,” Davenport said. “But as a person with a disability, when I found out what PT Barnum had done to all these historically marginalized people, that view of him changed quickly and dramatically.”

Davenport praised his editor, Todd Chandler, for crafting the film.

“He’s also a musician, and I think he designed this movie as a song,” Davenport said. “He was able to accentuate the aesthetic that I wanted, and also put his own mark on it. This is collaborative cinema. »

Davenport, co-founder of Through My Lens, which teaches students with and without disabilities how to make films collaboratively, tells his mother in a segment of the film that

“I Didn’t See You There” will be the last film he will make based on personal experiences.

“It was difficult to do this feature film about myself, and I think there are so many stories (about others) that need to be framed in a political disability narrative that I want to do,” said he declared.

Davenport sees disability as a political identity, not a medical diagnosis.

“It’s a group of people marginalized by society,” he said. “I don’t become disabled because I use a wheelchair. I’m handicapped when someone doesn’t climb a ramp.

Davenport’s film career began 10 years ago when he released his short documentary, “Wheelchair Diaries: One Step Up,” while a student at George Washington University.

“When I was in college, I was supposed to study abroad for a semester in Europe,” he said. “I was completely discouraged, because it was completely inaccessible. So I had the idea of ​​making a documentary on accessibility in Europe.

Davenport continued to explore different ways of directing films after graduating.

“Three years ago I started bouncing around shooting stuff about my everyday life and here we are with the movie in the box,” he said.

“I Didn’t See You There” is Davenport’s feature debut, and he’s honored to show it during the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

“It’s wild, and I don’t think I’ve even started to process it,” he said. “I think as a filmmaker you just hope that one day you can make it to Sundance. I think it’s unconventional to have Sundance behind it, and it’s amazing and essential for a film like this one.

Gerald R. Schneider