Growing up, you may have been told not to stare at a man in a wheelchair. It must have been. Most of us continue this behavior into adulthood, whether we realize it or not. Disabled filmmaker Reed Davenport leans into this social tension. i didn’t see you therean experimental film narrated by him and shot entirely from his point of view.
The film, which won Best Director for U.S. Documentary at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, has played in quiet theaters. It will likely find new viewers on PBS when it airs tomorrow night and will be available for streaming. Davenport could also be nominated for an Oscar in the coming weeks. Part of the film’s future success will depend on viewers’ willingness to audit their relationship with disability. An unsettling question permeates the film: Are the able-bodied audience connected to Davenport’s daily life, or are they voyeuristically peeping at it?
i didn’t see you there It breaks many conventions of modern documentaries. No reenactment or expert talk. There is no narrative arc. By the time the credits roll, Davenport has not formally identified his own disorder, which is cerebral palsy.
What this film offers the viewer is much more dynamic and compelling. The camera is almost always in motion. Davenport holds a camera in one hand and drives a power wheelchair in his Oakland, California neighborhood (and several other locations) with the other. We only get a glimpse of him, his reflection in a shop window, his hand pouring a cocktail.than that look He sees the world as he sees it, that is, from just a few feet off the ground. Sometimes a movie feels like a video game, or like a scene from the famous One Shot Restaurant. goodfellasDavenport rolls over cracks and bumps as he points his camera down the pavement, revealing subtle patterns in the built environment that many overlook. Sometimes his lens is pointed at the sky or the face of a passerby in the street. The result is hypnotic, meditative, rhythmic and sometimes dizzying.
We see him making his way through the labyrinthine corridors of the BART station, trying to find the elevator. While on the bus, we witness the frustration of the driver and the mixed reactions of the passengers when Davenport argues about which way to turn during the ride. I feel the indifference of idling drivers and others blocking the wheelchair ramp. Sometimes people ask Davenport if he’s okay or if he offers help. Music barely appears throughout the film. The main sound is Davenport’s electric chair ticking down the sidewalk as it spends the day.
One of the film’s most memorable sections is when Davenport visits his hometown of Bethel, Connecticut. This is also the birthplace of his circus icon, PT Barnum. Davenport uses this detail in conjunction with the looming presence of a giant circus tent built not far from his apartment in Oakland, and how disabled people have long been classified as “freaks.” pondering about At his mother’s house, Davenport temporarily stops the camera from moving. He has the audience listen to a poignant conversation between his mother and his niece. This stylistic shift is both thematic and practical. In areas of the country lacking continuous sidewalks and reliable public transportation, Davenport loses its freedom of movement. When he finally returns to California, the audience hears a wistful voicemail from his mother. “My goal in life is to bring you back to the East Coast.”
A little over a year ago, Davenport left Oakland and moved to Brooklyn, where I live.The first time I saw i didn’t see you there At a small movie theater in New York last fall. Shortly after Christmas, I passed a man in a wheelchair while taking a walk in a nearby park. I stepped back and shyly asked if his name was Reid. his face brightened. A few days later, Davenport and I met for coffee. (There are fewer local businesses that are wheelchair accessible than you might imagine.)
He told me that neither of the two nearest metro stations had elevators. He usually travels half a mile or more to access the train. I asked Davenport if his new neighbor was more or less accepting of his disability than his previous neighbor. It’s too much to do anything,” he said with a grin. An undergraduate majoring in journalism at George Washington University, he said he experienced considerable disability discrimination in the industry before pursuing his MFA in documentary film. He said he wasn’t interested in adding preachy messages to his films. , he waved me gently. He told me that his approach to filmmaking was simple. “Film is photography,” he said. “I want to see beautiful things”
I asked him why people should watch his movies. “If you have a disability, I think this movie was made for you,” he said. ’” he continued. You don’t have to be empathetic to be compassionate. Humans are humans. This reminded me of probably my favorite moment in the movie, when Davenport and a stranger we can’t see have a brief conversation in a public restroom. Davenport responds kindly but detachedly. He then rolls into the next scene.