I Didn’t See You There ★★★★ – Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2023

I Didn’t See You There ★★★★ – Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2023

A remarkably affecting film, Reid Davenport’s I Didn’t See You There places us in the frustrated position of seeing what the daily struggles are for wheelchair users. A bold and hopefully eye-opening film.

When a circus tent is put up outside his apartment, filmmaker Reid Davenport, a wheelchair user, reflects on the corrosive legacy of the “freak show” and the paradoxical spectacle and invisibility of disability.     

Filming I Didn’t See You There from a first-person perspective is a fantastic choice from Davenport. He pushes us into his world and how he sees things around him and how the world sees him. So be it the convertible full of people organising their luggage, who just so happen to have stupidly parked right on the corner of a sidewalk, blocking Davenport from crossing, then not apologising. Or a contractor at his apartment block whose cables have caused a hazard, delaying his travel home. At least that contractor was apologetic, but the frustrations have already built up in Davenport, who releases an exasperated, guttural yell into the void when he gets inside. 

By seeing everything from his perspective, we see the delays and the difficulties he faces just in getting around the city that he lives in. It doesn’t become difficult to imagine how many of these instances he faces every day. So when he is curt with some people, it may come across as rude, but we know via the footage that it is never-ending for him. By the time we get to people asking if he needs assistance when he clearly doesn’t, you begin to realise how there are multiple ways in which disabled people can feel below non-disabled people. By continually asking or, as one neighbour naively does, trying to big up a disabled person, we are demeaning them. If a person, disabled or otherwise, needs assistance, they will generally ask for it. To assume they need assistance can almost be as rude as ignoring them. Reid is a human and deserves the same level of respect as anyone else. 

Back to that first-person perspective that we get, instead of the camera facing directly in front of Davenport, it is wayward, in an experimental fashion. It could be pointed down at the ground, giving you an odd appreciation for it as we see the small changes as he roams down various streets. In fact, you could easily freeze any of those moments on these journeys and get a slew of interesting textures and ages of pavement. Perhaps that is the art student in me talking, but I Didn’t See You There could almost feel meditative in those moments. Yet, at the same time, disorientation strikes you. We are put into an uncomfortable position, only really able to use our hearing to know what is happening. Davenport is poetically trying to force us out of our viewing comfort zone to great success. 

There are good and bad moments in I Didn’t See You There, the good being the airline assistant making sure that Davenport is saving his energy before disembarking. The same with his family; his mother worries, of course, as any mother does with a child who lives at the end of the country, but at home, he is never swamped; he is respected for who he is. The short film Act of God did something similar in I Didn’t See You There; it kept you, for the most part, at our subject’s level. To be disabled is challenging enough, but to deal with the rest of humanity as well? All those microaggressions can and do build, and it is only in films like this that we fortunate able-bodied people can see that. 

Davenport refrains from showing us too much of himself, and rightly so in this case, as I Didn’t See You There is not wholly about him as his faults and feelings as much as he uses himself as a vessel to show us what disabled people go through daily. Be it totally ignored and disregarded as non-disabled people get on with their day, to being condescended to by people who maybe believe they are doing the right thing but are far too removed from the situation to see how obtuse their actions really are.

Sometimes it just takes a film or a piece of art to wake up a person to what they haven’t been seeing all their lives. Perhaps I Didn’t See You There, is that for some. I certainly hope so. It is a film that allows you this unique perspective without talking down to anyone. We simply see a mans joy and his frustrations all the while just trying to get on with his daily business. This is as fascinating a watch as it is educational. At the same time, Davenport may not want to make any more personal films anymore. He has solidified himself as a talented filmmaker who has a lot to say.


All films at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival are screening at the Barbican, and available from 20-26 March to stream from the festival website. https://ff.hrw.org/london#festival_schedule

Coverage from the Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2023


Category: Woman

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