Is There Anybody Out There?
Is There Anybody Out There? is a fiercely personal documentary in which its director and subject, Ella Glendining, charts her experience of navigating life with an atypical body, and the ableist baggage which accompanies it, with a bare, raw approach.
Born without hip joints and with short femurs, Glendining, a young filmmaker of 26 years when filming began, has grown accustomed to her physical difference. Perhaps more crucially, and certainly more dispiritingly, Glendining has also grown accustomed to the blank stares and the often well-intentioned but ultimately awkward encounters with strangers. The loneliness that ferments from the casual othering of her existence leads to the film’s titular question, representing Glendining’s desire to see herself reflected in another person (her condition is so extremely rare that her search proves fiendishly difficult).
While her mettle sees her through most of these knots, Is There Anybody There? often turns its attention to the more baleful elements of society’s historical attitudes towards noticeable disability. Scattered amongst Glendining’s vlogs, which lend a haphazard yet authentic quality to the film, and the more traditional camera work provided by Annemarie Lean-Vercoe is archival footage which shows the hideously wanton treatment of disabled people just 50 years prior. A young woman in a wheelchair, a volunteer at a day nursery for children with disabilities, shows remarkable composure in one such clip when faced with the question of whether she regrets her parents allowing her to live past infancy. “You’re glad to be alive?” she’s asked. “Yes, very much so. It’s super”. A central tenet of Glendining’s investigations is the exploration of modern “corrective” surgery as an extension of such attitudes. Dr Paley, a groundbreaking American surgeon in the field, while never directly attacked or admonished, feels like an implicit asker of a morally challenging question that underpins much of the film’s darker contemplations.
But, contrary to this, what Glendining seems to be primarily interested in, and what she places at the heart of the documentary, is a sense of comradeship and community, alongside an effort to push the rest of us onto a better, more conscious path. In her own words, “My body is quite shockingly different, and it’s human nature to be shocked. But it’s what you do next that really matters.”
Is There Anybody Out There? is released in select cinemas on 17th November 2023.
Watch the trailer for Is There Anybody Out There? here: