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“I Didn’t See You There”: Filmmaker Reid Davenport on His Directorial Debut, Ableism & More

StorySeptember 30, 2022
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We speak with the award-winning filmmaker Reid Davenport about his directorial debut, “I Didn’t See You There,” in which he reflects on the portrayal of disability in media and popular culture. “Documentary film has traditionally subjugated disabled people, so I wanted to completely turn that on its head” by filming from his perspective without being seen, says Davenport. He says the title of the film is a phrase he has heard from others, and it’s “coded in apology” for ignorance of the way Davenport exists in the world, but that “ignorance is a choice at the end of the day, and an apology is only going to do so much.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We end today’s show with a documentary that is opening today at Firehouse: DCTV’s Cinema for Documentary Film in its New York City theatrical debut. And people, when they walk through the lobby, will see Brent’s face, as that lobby is dedicated to him. The film is called I Didn’t See You There. It’s filmed and directed by Reid Davenport, who has cerebral palsy, and reflects on the portrayal of people with a disability in media and popular culture. This is an excerpt.

REID DAVENPORT: Every time I went out to film, the circus sound was in the shot. The tent made me think about the legacy of the freak show, about being looked at but not seen.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from I Didn’t See You There, the directorial debut of Reid Davenport. One quote said the film is first-person poetry in captivating motion, expressed with a singular, assured artistic voice.” It’ll broadcast on the PBS series POV next January.

Reid, welcome to Democracy Now! Congratulations on your film. You’re not just the director, you’re also director of photography. You filmed this entirely yourself. Talk about how and why you made this film.

REID DAVENPORT: Indeed. Thank you so much for having me, Amy.

I think of viewing films before, personal films, where I am seen on the camera, and it didn’t really come close to my perspective, or it subjugated me. And I think documentary film has traditionally subjugated disabled people. So I wanted to completely turn that on its head and really show a perspective that was more closely approximate to my perspective, without showing my face.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it really is amazing. It changed me, because it’s all from your perspective as if we are your eyes, we are you, and you’re looking at the world. Talk about the title of your documentary, I Didn’t See You There.

REID DAVENPORT: Yeah. So, I think there can be many interpretations of it. It’s a phrase I’ve heard. It’s coded in apology for not seeing me. I think they are asking for forgiveness for ignorance and not considering me. But ignorance is a choice at the end of the day, and an apology is only going to do so much. Disabled people and myself need to be seen by society.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about why you prefer to be called a “person with a disability” rather than a “disabled person,” Reid?

REID DAVENPORT: I apologize, but I actually don’t. Either two works for me, or you could put the person first, or you can put my political identify first, which is disabled. That’s a personal preference. I don’t really identify as a person with cerebral palsy. For so long, disability has been cast as an individual medical diagnosis. But in reality, it is a group of marginalized people who have been marginalized in the same way.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, Reid, we played a clip from I Didn’t See You There, and you referred to the circus tent. Can you talk about the freak show and the circus tent in your film?

REID DAVENPORT: Well, I think after making a few personal short films, I have this kind of questioning of whether or why people watched my films. Was it because of trying to be more accepting, or was it a little more sinister? And I’m also subject to gawking in public. And then a circus tent literally appeared across from my apartment. I couldn’t have made that up. And it became this symbol of me trying to reckon with my filmmaking practice and my own whole relationship with society.

AMY GOODMAN: Reid Davenport won the directing award for U.S. documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, where I Didn’t See You There premiered. It went on to win the Grand Jury Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina, and the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Jon Alpert, I’m glad you’re still with us. I wanted to ask about the significance of — first it was Abbey Disney’s film that premiered last Friday night, and then having Reid’s film, I Didn’t See You There, tonight, as you dedicate the lobby to Craig Renaud — to Brent Renaud.

JON ALPERT: We hope that this is the cinema that gives the information, gives the voice, gives the power that we all need to have in our society. Reid, my hat’s off to you. It’s a fantastic film that you’ve made. It’s quite inspirational. Abbey Disney’s film talks about important issues. All the work that Brent and Craig did, very — and you’re going to see all that stuff at our cinema. I hope you’ll all come. We’ve worked really hard to make it, Amy. I wish you were there to share this with us in the same building, but you’ll be there tonight. And I hope everybody else will come down to our cinema.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s a magnificent cinema.

JON ALPERT: And thank you, Craig.

CRAIG RENAUD: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Jon Alpert, award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker, co-founder of DCTV, the Firehouse Cinema. Reid Davenport, filmmaker whose award-winning directorial debut, I Didn’t See You There, is playing tonight and all next week at Firehouse: DCTV’s Cinema for Documentary Film. That film is also going to be on PBS POV in January of 2023.

That does it for our show. Happy belated birthday to our engineer Paul Powell. Democracy Now! is currently accepting applications for two full-time jobs: an associate digital editor and a people and culture manager. Learn more and apply at democracynow.org.

Democracy Now! produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud and Mary Conlon. Our executive director is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Jon Randolph, Paul Powell, Mike Di Filippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan, David Prude, Dennis McCormick. I’m Amy Goodman. Stay safe.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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