POV DOCUMENTARY: “I DIDN’T SEE YOU THERE”

Winner of the Directing Award for U.S. Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, Reid Davenport’s debut feature, I Didn’t See You There, airing now on PBS’s POV, is, according to the Brooklyn-based filmmaker, a documentary “about disability from an overtly political perspective.”  Shot entirely by Davenport from his wheelchair as he makes his way through the urban landscape of Oakland, the film shows viewers what the world looks like from the physical perspective of a disabled person.  Tonight, the award-winning director joins MetroFocus to discuss his process and his vision, and about why the film serves as a clear rebuke to the norm of disabled people being seen and not heard.

Aired on January 24, 2023

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING, AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN.

MY GUEST TONIGHT IS FILMMAKER REID DAVENPORT, FIRST TIME FEATURE DIRECTOR OF A FANTASTIC NEW POINT OF VIEW DOCUMENTARY NOW AVAILABLE ON PBS.

THE FILM IS CALLED 'I DIDN'T SEE YOU THERE', AND IT'S A LOOK AT THE WORLD THROUGH THE EYES OF A PERSON WITH DISABILITY.

DAVENPORT HIMSELF AS HE USES THE WHEELCHAIR TO MOVE THROUGH THE URBAN LANDSCAPE OF OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA.

IT'S A FUNNY, ENGROSSING, THOUGHT PROVOKING FILM THAT EARNED DAVENPORT A DIRECTING AWARD AT SUNDANCE AND HAS BEEN NOMINATED FOR A HOST OF OTHER AWARDS AND FEATURES IN A NUMBER OF BEST OF LISTS FOR MUST-WATCH DOCUMENTARIES.

HERE'S A PREVIEW.

I GOT THIS NEW CAMERA THAT I CAN HANDLE MYSELF.

IT ALLOWED ME TO BE MORE SPONTANEOUS WITHOUT WORRYING ABOUT ME, IN WORDS.

I WANTED TO MAKE A FILM ABOUT HOW I SAW THE WORLD.

AND JOINING ME NOW IS THE DIRECTOR OF 'I DIDN'T SEE YOU THERE', REID DAVENPORT.

REID, WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

THANK YOU.

IT'S GREAT TO BE HERE.

ABSOLUTELY.

SO FIRST OFF, WHAT I WAS SO TAKEN WITH WITH THIS FILM IS THE POINT OF VIEW OF THE WHOLE THING.

I MEAN, IT REALLY SEEMS TO FEED INTO MAKING SURE THAT THE AUDIENCE NOT ONLY SEES THE WORLD FROM YOUR POINT OF VIEW, BUT ALSO YOU GET A SENSE OF HOW OFTEN OTHER PEOPLE DON'T SEE YOU.

YEAH, I THINK -- THE FIRST ONE IS THE DOCUMENTARY FILM HAS ALWAYS -- HAS ALWAYS MADE FILMS ABOUT DISABILITY THAT ARE EXTREMELY PROBLEMATIC, THAT SUBJUGATE PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES.

SO MY DECISION TO -- TO NOT SHOW MYSELF IS -- IS REJECTION OF THAT SUBJECT.

AND I THINK THE OTHER THING IS THAT WE HAVE A MISCONCEPTION THAT DISABILITY IS A MEDICAL DIAGNOSIS.

IT'S NOT.

DISABILITY IS YOUR REACTION TO SPECIFIC BODY -- IF YOU WANT TO MAKE A FILM ABOUT YOUR DISABILITY, YOU DON'T TURN THE CAMERA ON YOURSELF, YOU TURN THE CAMERA OUTWARD.

WELL, THAT'S SO INTERESTING THAT YOU PUT IT THAT WAY, BECAUSE OF COURSE THE PART OF THE NARRATIVE OF THE FILM STARTS WITH THE FACT THAT A CIRCUS TENT POPS UP NEAR YOUR APARTMENT IN OAKLAND, AND HOW JUST SORT OF THE HISTORY OF THE FREAK SHOW THAT'S ATTACHED TO THE CIRCUS AND HOW YOU SORT OF TURN THAT ON ITS HEAD BY SHOWING YOUR WORLD.

SURE.

AND I THINK ME BEING IN -- TOO POLITE TO HAVE A FREAK SHOW, BUT THE FREAK SHOW CIRCUS -- GOING OUT ON THE STREET, YOUR NEIGHBOR, THERE IS THE CONTINUED ACUTE SUBJUGATION OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES.

YOU KNOW, THAT'S VERY TRUE, AND THAT ALSO MADE ME THINK OF NOT JUST OUR TASTES FOR DOCUMENTARIES, BUT REALITY TV, WHICH SEEMS TO FIT RIGHT INTO THAT VEIN.

RIGHT.

DEBATE FREAK SHOW WAS -- REALITY TV OR TALK SHOW OR -- THERE IS A VOYEURISTIC INCLINATION TO SHOW PEOPLE AS --

SO HOW DO YOU BALANCE THAT?

BECAUSE WITH AT LEAST WHAT WE SEE FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE IN THE FILM, BECAUSE THERE'S QUITE A TU TIMES -- SEVERAL TIMES WHERE OUTSIDE OF YOUR IMMEDIATE FAMILY MEMBERS OR YOUR FRIENDS, OTHER PEOPLE SEEM TO ALMOST WANT TO AVOID OR OVERCORRECT AND WANT TO HELP YOU, EVEN WHEN YOU'RE LIKE, YEAH, I'M FINE, I DON'T NEED ANY HELP.

YEAH, I -- I DON'T KNOW WHAT PEOPLE SHOULD DO.

I MEAN, I -- I -- I KIND OF, I THINK -- AND I DON'T WANT TO SPEAK FOR ALL DISABLED PEOPLE, BUT -- WITH RAISING AWARENESS OF TREATING PEOPLE -- DISABLED PEOPLE.

WE'RE PEOPLE, AND WE -- TO TEACH YOU HOW NOT TO BE AWKWARD.

OF COURSE, YES.

ONE OF THE OTHER THINGS THAT I WAS IMPRESSED AND MOVED BY IS HOW YOU FOUND SO MUCH BEAUTY IN THE MUNDANE OF LIFE.

YOU KNOW, WE SEE A LOT OF, YOU KNOW, RAILWAY TRACKS AND SUBWAY CARS AND SIDEWALK AND THINGS THAT, YOU KNOW, PERHAPS MOST OF US TAKE FOR GRANTED, BUT SEEING IT IN THE FILM, IT SHOWS THE CITY LANDSCAPE WITH ITS OWN BEAUTY.

YEAH, I THINK THE FILM IS A CITY ORCHESTRA, OR A LOVE LETTER TO OAKLAND.

I THINK WE ALL HAVE -- I THINK WE ALL HAVE -- BEAUTY IN THE MUNDANE, AND I JUST REALLY WANTED TO FOCUS ON WHAT I SAW AS BEAUTIFUL, AND A LOT OF IT WAS FROM A WHEELCHAIR FROM PEOPLE'S --

WELL, ONE OF THE OTHER THINGS THAT, FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE THAT, AGAIN, MIGHT BE SURPRISING TO PEOPLE BUT REALLY SHOULDN'T IS THAT A LOT OF YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR COMES THROUGH, AND JUST YOUR ABILITY TO LAUGH AT A LOT OF THE ABSURDITIES THAT EXIST IN YOUR DAY-TO-DAY LIFE, AND HOW OTHER PEOPLE, LIKE YOU WERE MENTIONING, DON'T KNOW HOW TO REACT, OR MIGHT HAVE A FEAR THAT REALLY IS IN PLACE BECAUSE YOU'RE ABLE TO LAUGH AT A LOT OF STUFF.

YEAH, I JUST THINK IT'S WHO I AM.

THAT'S JUST PART OF THE PERSON.

I THINK THAT WHEN OTHER PEOPLE -- SELF-DEFENSE MECHANISM, WHICH -- IS AT SOME LEVEL FOR ME, YEAH, I THINK I SEE THE WORLD -- I CAN DIVORCE THE WAY I SEE THE WORLD -- SENSE OF HUMOR THAT I HAVE.

OKAY.

WELL, THEN, WHAT IS IT YOU WOULD WANT TO AUDIENCE TO TAKE AWAY FROM, OR DO YOU NOT HAVE AN AGENDA WITH THIS FILM?

IS IT SOMETHING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO SEE THROUGH YOUR EYES.

WHATEVER.

I THINK THE TEAM AND I TRIED VERY HARD TO BE AS -- WITH THIS FILM AS POSSIBLE AND TO THE AUDIENCES GET WHAT THEY WANT.

DIFFERENT INTERPRETATIONS OF DIFFERENT SCENES OR WHAT THE FILM IS FOR ME OVERALL, TWO DIFFERENT PEOPLE.

SO, IS THAT WHERE YOU GOT THE TITLE FROM?

YOU ALMOST GOT ME.

I DON'T KNOW.

BECAUSE IT FEELS LIKE BASED ON WHAT YOU SAID THAT THE TITLE OF 'I DIDN'T SEE YOU THERE' IS NOT NECESSARILY SO MUCH -- AND THE FILM SHOWS IT'S NOT ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE NOT NOTICING YOU, BUT NOT UNDERSTANDING WHAT YOUR EXPERIENCE, YOUR VIEW OF THE WORLD IS.

RIGHT.

RIGHT.

AND IT'S AGAIN -- IT'S ABOUT LOOK -- IT'S ABOUT LOOKING AND NOT SEEING.

WELL, OF THE PEOPLE THAT -- BECAUSE WE DO SEE PARTS OF YOU IN THE FILM, AND WHEN I SAY PARTS OF YOU, I MEAN LIKE AN ARM OR FOOT OR MAYBE AN EYE OR SOMETHING, BUT AGAIN, WE DON'T SEE ALL OF YOU, BUT WHY WAS THAT SO IMPORTANT?

THAT WOULD BE THE FIRST PART OF THE QUESTION.

AND IS SECOND PART IS, YOU ALSO DON'T DIRECTLY NAME CEREBRAL PALSY IN THE FILM, AND I'M WONDERING IF THOSE WERE TWO DIRECT CONSCIOUS CHOICES YOU MADE.

YEAH, I DON'T IDENTIFY AS A PERSON WITH CEREBRAL PALSY.

I IDENTIFY AS A DISABLED PERSON.

TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF AUTHORITY GIVEN TO THE ESTABLISHMENT TO -- DISABLED PEOPLES' EYES, AND -- IS THE MOST ABLIST PEOPLE I'VE EVER MET.

I HAVE MET OTHER PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN MORE TREATED AS -- AND THAT'S WHY I PREFER DISABLED.

I THINK THE OTHER WORD IS IT'S ABOUT BEING ABLE TO SHOW MY PERSPECTIVE AND THEN -- TO REALLY SEE IT, PICTURE THEMSELVES IN THE BODY.

I THINK SEEING MY FACE WOULD ADD A BARRIER THAT I --

OKAY.

LASTLY, BECAUSE WE ONLY HAVE ABOUT A MINUTE LEFT, BUT WHILE MOST OF THE FILM TAKES PLACE IN OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA, YOU ARE NO LONGER A RESIDENT OF OAKLAND, AM I CORRECT?

CORRECT.

I MOVED TO NEW YORK 15 MONTHS AGO.

AND ONE OF THE CONVERSATIONS THAT NEW YORK HAS A LOT OF IS OUR ACCESSIBILITY OF THE CITY.

THERE'S A POINT IN THE FILM THAT YOU TALK ABOUT THE FACT THAT ONE OF THE REASON YOU LIVE WHERE YOU LIVE IS BECAUSE YOU HAVE FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT.

DO YOU FEEL YOU ALSO HAVE THAT IN NEW YORK?

I DO, BUT, I MEAN, EVERY CITY -- NO CITY IN AMERICA IS ACCESSIBLE.

HERE IN NEW YORK, THE SUBWAY STATIONS ARE ALL 25% WHEELCHAIR -- OF SUBWAY STATIONS ARE ACCESSIBLE, WHICH IS ABSURD.

WE HAVE A REALLY, REALLY, REALLY LONG WAY TO GO.

ALL RIGHT.

WELL, WITH THAT, THE FILM IS TITLED 'I DIDN'T SEE YOU THERE.'

AND REID DAVENPORT I WANT TO THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR BRINGING US THIS FILM, BECAUSE I THINK IT'S REALLY IMPORTANT POINT OF VIEW, WHICH IS ALSO WHERE THE FILM IS STREAMING BUT POINT OF VIEW FOR THE PEOPLE TO SEE, SO THANK YOU SO MUCH.

THANK YOU.

IT'S GOOD TO BE HERE.

ABSOLUTELY.

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