SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! I have known a few people who suffered the debilitation of palsy. My uncle, Jeff Heinfling, developed a bell’s palsy due to several self-inflicted injuries in his youth. A family friend in Indianapolis, the late, great Jeffrey Frank, experienced a lesser form of cerebral palsy, which impacted his speaking ability, but not his general motor skills. However, both men shared a common trait: they were highly intelligent. You need only work past the garbled form of oral communication to know that. The same is true for Reid Davenport and his deeply insightful documentary I Didn’t See You There.
A series of vignettes from the perspective of Davenport, the film begs the question, “Do you see me?” This invisibility is a perception often experienced by people who are disabled. Over the course of his career, Davenport has helmed eight such films. In a conversation with his mother, he admits the process has incited him to become increasingly political for disabled people’s rights. One pertinent example: a contractor’s extension cord impeded the filmmaker while going up the ramp to his apartment. The cable is legally not permitted to lay across or before the wheelchair ramp, yet it sits there. In a brief, tense conversation, the contractor tries to gauge if he has 15 minutes to do as he will with the cord. While Davenport assures him that he does, this elicits a moment of completely understandable private venting for the wheelchair-bound man.
I Didn’t See You There is framed in the context of a red circus big top tent that goes up in the lot near Davenport’s apartment. Throughout the direct experience, he meditates on the nature of circuses, especially their freak shows. The director further contemplates whether he would have been a freak in such a carnival show had he been born in a different era. This is probably partly because PT Barnum and Mr. Davenport both share the same hometown of Bethel, Connecticut.
“…begs the question, ‘Do you see me?’ This invisibility is a perception often experienced by people who are disabled.”
Davenport travels twice to Bethel, and, both times, it’s quite clear the rest of his family misses and loves him, as they are all situated around the town and would like him to come back. Also, one learns why he left. Davenport does not want to rely on others to do anything and wants freedom of movement. Such a thing is best accomplished living in a city like Oakland, CA, where he currently resides.
One of my favorite parts happens at the opening, where the filmmaker illustrates how one could ride the BART – the northern California mass transit system – for free. Then, of course, you run the risk of having a bad experience with a transit cop. However, as that has only happened once to Davenport, he freely admits it hasn’t prevented him from doing it on other occasions.
Shot from the perspective of Reid’s wheelchair, I found I Didn’t See You There strongly involving. The vignettes that comprise Reid Davenport’s existence really give you a sense of life from the vantage point of one at a lower elevation than most. It’s life, as usual, just a little different, is all.
I Didn’t See You There screened at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
"…[gives] you a sense of life from the vantage point of one at a lower elevation than most."