Is There Anybody Out There? Image

Is There Anybody Out There?

By Benjamin Franz | March 12, 2023

SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! Is There Anybody Out There? is writer-director Ella Glendining’s cinematic journal of her life. Born without hips, a medical disability initialed PFFD (Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency), Glendining is looking to see if there’s anyone who is like her. So she scrawls on Facebook one day in a PFFD group, “is there anybody out there?”

Interspersed between diary entries, we will get to know Glendining’s parents, spend time with her and her boyfriend, and see Glendining interact with her newborn son River. We also see clips of interviews with children who have experienced similar disabilities. In all these snippets of footage, an underlying theme reveals itself: the resilience of the human spirit. There is ultimately nothing wrong with you if you lack hip bones. You are just a shorter person whose ambling gait often requires help from a wheelchair.

Is There Anybody Out There? is a personal and revealing deep dive into Glendining’s life, friends, and family. A visit to her home village allows her an afternoon with her friend Naomi Bethell, who’s Autistic. Over an afternoon of chilled spirits, the two walk through how their disabilities differentiate and yet result in similar experiences.

Ella Glendining appears in Is There Anybody Out There? by Ella Glendining, an official selection of the World Documentary Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Annemarie Lean-Vercoe.

Born without hips…Ella is looking to see if there’s anyone who is like her.”

A trip to America allows Glendining to meet people similar to her. Priscilla, who lives in Austin, Texas, is the first person she encounters. Watching these two ladies with PFFD bond is remarkable and engaging. Learning of the sliminess of people willing to interact with disabled people… less so. However, there’s a lightness to the conversation that makes it a standout scene in this documentary.

As the trip continues, we see joy develop between the friendships these people share. It’s as if there’s energy that is developed when you find people who share common trials with you. This leads to another theme that emerges: one ultimately must learn to love one’s self. Self-love is a common thread for us all. In order to love another, one must learn to love one’s self first. Listening to the various people reveal that it took a long time to learn to love themselves was an especially poignant understanding.

Is There Anybody Out There? stands as a humane portrait of disability. For example, there exists an operation one can undertake to develop a pair of hips for someone who has PFFD. However, Glendining’s parents decided she was perfect as she was, and it would be better not to interfere with her childhood. In our esteemed filmmaker’s case, she travels to Florida to meet a practitioner of the PFFD hip replacement procedure, Dr. Paley. The conversation between them concerning the practical options for a hip replacement for a grown woman is riveting. That the doctor is candid about the lack of possibilities an adult possesses speaks to the relative newness of the field.

In this combination of camera footage, mobile phone video, and historical reels, we watch a deeply enthralling slice of Ella Glendining’s life. If you like observational, cinematic diaries, then seek out Is There Anybody Out There?. It’s a deeply lovely movie.

Is There Anybody Out There? screened at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. and the 2023 SXSW Film Festival.

Is There Anybody Out There? (2023)

Directed and Written: Ella Gladlining

Starring: Ella Glendining, Naomi Bethell, Fran Glendining, etc.

Movie score: 9/10

Is There Anybody Out There? Image

"…a deeply lovely movie."

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