Directed by: Reid Davenport
Distributed by: TBD
Written by Anna Harrison
“Do you see me?” Reid Davenport asks in his feature debut, “I Didn’t See You There.” It’s a loaded question—the easiest answer is “no,” simply because Davenport never shows himself to the viewers. We get glimpses: a hand here, a foot there, a reflection in a glass door as his wheelchair rolls down an Oakland sidewalk. But with the camera Davenport has attached to himself, we see the world through his eyes, and that lets us know the man better than simply laying eyes on him ever would; the viewer sees him in a way that passersby can’t. Davenport’s cerebral palsy means that the easiest way for him to get around is with a wheelchair, and his visible disability causes able-bodied people to coddle him at best and shy away from him at worst. They might look at him, but they see only his disability—only someone to be helped.
When a circus tent springs up near his apartment, it sets Davenport to thinking. The tent no longer contains exploited people for the masses to gawk at, and freak shows have been dismissed as a distasteful relic of the past, when people were less inclined to be inclusive: now we are enlightened, and instead of filing through the circus to look at the disabled, the less fortunate, the other, we patronize them by telling them how brave they are, we leave them to languish in airports when there aren’t enough staff on hand to help, we expect them to be understanding when a power cord blocks the ramp to get to their home. Davenport himself is from Bethel, Connecticut, birthplace of none other than P. T. Barnum, father of the freak show (and less cool than “The Greatest Showman” would have you believe), and when he goes to film the monument recently erected to the man, the anger rolling off of Davenport is palpable.
Yet throughout this reflection, and despite the first-person camera showing us the world through Davenport’s eyes (a montage of sidewalk cracks and bumps, muttered curses when a stray Bird scooter gets in his path, shaky hands pouring a drink and cleaning up the aftermath), we remain at a distance. “Do you see me?” he asks. We see him more than the others featured in the film, except for his family—most especially his young niece and nephew, who disregard his disability in the flippant way only children can ignore things—but Davenport never truly lets us in. He mentions failed career paths before he decided to try his hand at filmmaking, but we don’t know what those are, or why they failed, though there are vague illusions to how the nine-to-five schedule does not always accommodate the disabled. Davenport’s likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, friends—they all remain elusive. For a film trying to (metaphorically) show us the man behind the camera, Davenport remains a bit of an enigma, even if his camera gives us unprecedented access to his everyday experience. Maybe it’s a shortcoming of the documentary itself, or maybe it’s indicative of the man’s reluctance to expose himself for fear of judgment.
Still, despite the distance, it’s hard not to be drawn to “I Didn’t See You There,” even if it’s just for the images Davenport presents us, or the aching moment where he goes into his apartment and just screams after yet again encountering an obstacle presented by someone heedless of his needs. In both his structure and create choices it feels vaguely reminiscent of “How To with John Wilson,” just a bit longer and a bit meaner—not Davenport himself, but the world at large. It might make you want to scream, too.
“I Didn’t See You There” Clip
To find a theatrical screening of “I Didn’t See You There” near you please visit: https://www.ididntseeyoutherefilm.com/screenings
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