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How I'm Challenging Conventions as a Filmmaker With Cerebral Palsy

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It was my third semester of film school; by the end of it I’d have my fourth film.  I had made a quasi-personal film that was related to my disability before, but not as personal as the film I was about to embark on. This one required an unflinching honesty to a memory that was formative in a painful kind of way.

Cerebral palsy doesn’t quite lend itself to being a cinematographer.  In fact, being a filmmaker with a disability felt similar to being an adolescent with a disability who loved baseball — an analogy I thought was worth exploring on camera.

In my personal film about baseball, I decided to forego the aid of an assistant who usually shot my film for me.  The opening and closing shots were going to be jarring, spastic, me. “A Cerebral Game” has played coast-to-coast and won the Artist Vision Award at the 2016 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.

It was the first time I had ever intentionally challenged the conventions of filmmaking. But after I saw how audiences reacted, I realized that my inability to adhere to the rules of filmmaking lent itself to more viscerally portraying my disability and, when relevant, my perspective.

My childhood friend, Dan Lee, and I started an organization called Through My Lens to enable students with disabilities to express themselves through video. One of the key components of Through My Lens’ mission is challenging the physical conventions of filmmaking.

With the recent ABC premiere of “Speechless” and this past summer’s valid outrage over “Me Before You,” I am once again reminded how crucial it is for people with disabilities to be able to tell their stories, author their autobiographies, direct their own movies.

Filmmaking not only enables me to express my perspective to an audience, but also allows me to understand my relationship with my disability. I learn about myself through my own films.

Who is to say a Deaf filmmaker needs to make films with audio? Who is to say a filmmaker who’s blind needs to have conventional visuals? And wouldn’t those films allow audiences to step further into those filmmakers’ worlds?

Through My Lens wants to plant these ideas in future filmmakers’ heads and combine public speaking with one-on-one sessions to brainstorm how a student can make amateur videos that would then be curated online.

Dan and I made an example of what we want students to do through a music video with my distinct walk as the beat of the song.  It took under an hour to shoot and didn’t require expensive equipment.

Let the Beat Walk from Reid Davenport on Vimeo.

With videos like this, Through My Lens will tackle the taboo of being disabled by allowing audiences to see the firsthand perspective of young people with disabilities. We want to equip them with the skills to educate, provoke and better understand themselves.

Learn more at Through My Lens.

Originally published: October 5, 2016
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