“I don’t know if it made sense, but I couldn’t stop filming it,” filmmaker Reid Davenport recalls of a circus tent set up outside his Oakland apartment. But Davenport kept the camera on the circus tent, using it as a starting point for what would become his documentary debut, I didn’t see you there.
The feature, which premiered in the U.S. Documentary section of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, draws a direct line between the circus’ legacy of the circus’ “monstrous performance” and the possibility that the paralyzed Davenport brain, face daily background. With no on-screen director, the documentary was shot entirely from Davenport’s perspective using footage from his wheelchair.
Outside of I didn’t see you there, Davenport behind the short documentary Promote and A brain game. He also co-founded Through My Lens, a nonprofit that seeks to amplify the voices of people with disabilities through content creation and media consulting.
Before winning the Sundance American Documentary Director Award, Davenport spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about employment I didn’t see you there.
How did this document begin?
I find that question very difficult to answer. It’s an extension of myself. When I first started shooting, I didn’t know if it was a movie or a collection or a social media installation. I just wanted to start exploring the visuals and pair it with the voiceover and just keep doing it, going deeper and deeper into it. And now here we are.
When did you realize you were creating a feature?
I think a large part of it was when I shared with my friend Keith Wilson about the 30-minute video, and the next day he texted me and said, ‘I want to produce this movie’. And that’s when I realized, OK, maybe this is a movie. It was a really great moment in the process. It can be said that this is a movie. It’s another thing when someone says, “Let me do this for you.”
I feel a particular nervousness when I say, “I’m making a movie.”
I guess that’s probably why I didn’t say it. Well, if I don’t make a movie, if I don’t make a movie, I can’t disappoint or disappoint others. (Laughter.)
How did you finish your filming?
A lot of it is handheld, but most of it is from my wheelchair. [The camera] was strapped to my wheelchair.
I’ve never seen that POV in a movie before. Is it important to you to let your audience see that physical perspective on the screen?
Sure. This is a supervised concept, a spectacle. For me, my perspective is much more important than my body and how I can move, etc.
At one point in the movie, you mention that you hope this is your last “personal movie”. Why?
There are certain gaps that I felt when creating this feature that I didn’t feel during my previous work. There are many political topics about disability that lie far beyond my life that I think are important. Obviously, we’re making a movie from my point of view, but my life is also my life, and I want to explain that.
Did you think of the audience in the production?
Yes, I would love to have people in wheelchairs realize their perspective in this movie. I don’t know how successful I was, but that was one of my goals for the movie.
Do you have a dream documentary project?
We’re making a documentary right now with Multitude Films, produced Pray goabout how disabled people have been and continue to die under the guise of assisted suicide.
How was the screening experience at Sundance?
It’s wild to see all this press and reviews come out. I’m surprised I’m still not completely overwhelmed. I’m just saying that though, so it’ll probably happen soon. (Laughter.)
What would you like Hollywood to know about working with documentary filmmakers who are disabled?
Get out of our way and be aware of the barriers you are putting. When you watch documentaries about disability issues, you are not necessarily affiliated with the field. So it’s about engaging these views in a way that makes sense and making sure this isn’t an out-of-date time for you to talk about in your press release. Since documentaries don’t fully cover the subject of disability or disability, look for filmmakers who have a desire to reverse that.
This interview has been edited and condensed.