Quintessentially human — that’s how director Reid Davenport presents himself and the world around him in his first film behind the camera, I Didn’t See You There.* Shot completely from Davenport’s perspective, with either a handheld camera or one mounted to his wheelchair, the film transcends stereotypes and preexisting narratives about people with disabilities. The result is a work of art that is introspective, funny and raw.
Shortly after Davenport began filming, a circus was set up unavoidably close to his home in Oakland, California. Every time he went to film, he says, the big red tent was in his shot. Unable to shake it, he began to develop a connection between the infamous concept of the freak show and his own life. He questions if he has created his own version of a freak show, with him as the star, by choosing an artistic profession in which he is at the apex. This connection serves as a backdrop for the remainder of the film. Subtle yet emotive, his approach is not one of a hero or a victim, but a complex character grappling with his own life choices and career path.
In almost constant motion, the majority of the film is characterized by Davenport’s wheelchair rolling all over Oakland. Shots of the ground, the sky and faceless people are coupled with effortlessly humorous remarks and brooding contemplations voiced by Davenport himself. Featuring cameos from the kind, the naïve and the oblivious, scenes of Davenport’s interactions cause the audience to consider which category they lie in.
Although Davenport explores the difficult and very personal topic of disability, his personality and raw human traits are not lost. We hear him get angry, we hear him curse, we hear him drink and smoke, but most of all, we hear him be cleverly hilarious. As Davenport addresses all parts of his life, his sense of humor is somehow both uncomfortable and comforting at the same time. Through unpredictable comments and a confident presentation, Davenport negates the idea that disabled people are seen and not heard.
It is extremely rare that a film with very few human faces can evoke a spectrum of emotions such as laughter, compassion, warmth and distress in 77 minutes. It’s both unsettling and exciting to see a film that is honestly and candidly human, without the frills or the unnecessary.
* Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the film was Davenport's first behind the camera, but he has directed previous films.