Reid Davenport: Artist Diary
Building upon and expanding disability aesthetics in film, Reid Davenport’s 2021 Creative Capital Project I Didn’t See You There is a groundbreaking work of documentary cinema.
When a circus tent goes up outside of his apartment, a disabled filmmaker must confront the legacy of the Freak Show and whether his past autobiographical filmmaking has fit into its tradition. With the camera pointed away from himself, he captures the personal and the poetic from his wheelchair.
The film has been hailed by Nick Allen of Roger Ebert as, “first-person poetry in captivating motion, expressed with a singular, assured artistic voice,” winning the Directing Award for U.S. Documentary at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Screening from September 30 through October 6 at DCTV, Davenport shares what inspired him to tell this story.
This is me at Lake Merritt in Oakland. I lived in Oakland for five years. The city was the main backdrop for my project; I couldn’t have made it without Oakland. I’ve always loved street photography, something evident in the film. The city embraced me even though I didn’t deserve it as a non-native white person living in a historically Black city that is being gentrified. I will always love and be grateful to Oakland. Lake Merritt was crucial to my mental health during the darkest days of COVID, and its tapestry is included in some crucial moments of the project.
This is my tiny camera that I shot the film on. Most of the footage came from it being rubberbanded to my wheelchair. Being able to follow in the tradition of disability aesthetics is what excites me most. My footage was sometimes shaky, sometimes out-of-focus, and sometimes resembled a dolly shot that would’ve been impossible any other way.
I wanted to make a film about how I saw the world, as a disabled person. While the film digresses, at least thematically, to how the world sees me at times, I still stick aesthetically to showing my vision.
My collaborator and I decided it would be a great idea to move across the country within a week of each other smackdab in the middle of post-production; I moved to New York, Keith moved to Georgia. It was a blur. It was definitely a challenge, but at the same time we had been working with editor and Creative Capital alumnus, Todd Chandler, from across the country for months.
When I arrived in New York City, I was reunited with my baseball glove that my mom dug up for me. I’ve been a Yankee fan all of my life, but this is the first time I’m living in New York City…and I love it! One of the themes explored in the film is the evolution of home and how moving on is always inextricably tied with missing aspects the past. To me, this glove symbolizes both the past and the future, those two strands meeting in this image.
At the first Creative Capital event that I was able to attend in-person, my good friend Alejandro Durán, who I hadn’t seen for years, showed up. I love being part of this community! Creative Capital has been helpful in many ways, but what stands out is the gatherings with the other grantees. Sharing my project helped me solidify what the film was for me, not just in planning my presentation but also in the reactions from an audience of artists.
I couldn’t have dreamt up a better premiere. Not only did the project screen at Sundance, but I won the Directing Award for U.S. Documentary. This project wouldn’t have gotten there without the hard work and passion of the I Didn’t See You There team: Keith Wilson, Todd Chandler, Alysa Nahmias, and Sasha Leitmann.
Left: ID: Reid sits facing forward in an empty movie theater. Photo by DCTV
Right: ID: A movie poster for I Didn’t See You There. Three long shadows of people on a paved path. The shadow to the left is that of a wheelchair-user and it spills onto the grass. There are laurels of awards from Sundance, Full Frame and San Francisco International. Below the title are credits and funders. There are two quotes near the top of the poster: “’I Didn’t See You There’ is first-person poetry in captivating motion, expressed with a singular, assured artistic voice.” – Roger Ebert; “Davenport has put a stake in the ground for an emboldened cinema of disability.” – Filmmaker Magazine: Poster designed by Yen Tan
I am so excited to have the theatrical premiere of I Didn’t See You There at DCTV in downtown New York City! It’s a new independent cinema housed in an old firehouse. The theater is gorgeous.
I Didn’t You There is showing at DCTV in New York City from September 30–October 6, 2022.