Limits are a natural part of entrepreneurship, and while we usually think of money and time, personal challenges are just as crucial. Speaking at TED 2017, TED Fellow and independent filmmaker Reid Davenport shared his own experience transcending physical limitations and how he is enabling other challenged folks to tell their story.
Inc.: What was the first film that changed your life?
Reid Davenport: I'm not sure that any one film changed my life. But there are two particular ones that stand out. I vividly remember watching My Left Foot. It was one of the first times I had seen someone - in this case a character - with cerebral palsy on the big screen. It was also one of the only times I remember laughing and crying at the same time. I think it was so powerful for me because it transcended the human-interest story I associated - I was about 12 - with disability in the media. It showed Christy Brown as a nuanced and complicated person.
The second film is Let the Fire Burn - for completely different reasons. My undergraduate professor and mentor Jason Osder made it. He was my advisor and confidant on the first film I ever made. When I was a senior, Let the Fire Burn came out and premiered at Tribeca. His humility, thoughtfulness and involvement in my project while directing a popular film is incredible. I thought, 'I want to be that.' I still contest that Let the Fire Burn would be at the top of my list even if I didn't know Jason because of its challenging ambiguity. I definitely tried to emulate his style in my latest film, RAMPED UP.
Tell me more about Through My Lens. How did the idea come about?
One of my best friends Daniel [Lee], who I've known since I was eight, called me up last year and said, 'I want to help you with spreading awareness and with what you're currently doing.' At that point, I had made a few short films related to disability and was speaking at universities. When we decided to form an organization, we were really struggling with how we were going to stand out. There are so many public speakers out there that we needed to be different. Towards the end of one of our initial meetings, I mentioned that eventually I wanted to give cameras to students with disabilities and encourage them to make films from their perspectives. Daniel immediately recognized that that shouldn't be a long-term goal, but that it was a way to make us stand out now.
Entrepreneurs deal with limitations, like the time they have every day, challenges in their physical abilities, and so on. How have limitations made you stronger?
So everyone has limitations, whether they be physical, socioeconomic or a host of other things. I think that's when, for whatever reason, we discover a way to circumvent a limitation after we've gotten used to confronting it. We have added energy that can manifest itself somewhere else, whether that's creatively or simply having more energy.
We fight so hard as entrepreneurs often to represent something that we feel like is being neglected. Why is it important for people with physical challenges to tell their visual stories?
I think this is a two-fold answer. The first is that the media has gotten disability wrong and they show no signs of changing their ways. From books to shows to movies to news, disability is shown within the context of the taboo. People with disabilities are inspirational or passive or one-dimensional (or even portrayed as villains, which was a prevalent trope just decades ago and still relevant).
So who better to change the narrative than people with disabilities themselves? And with the proliferation of social media and camera phones comes the opportunity to take back the narrative. The second part of the answer lies within the medium of film itself, which relies on sight and sound. Both of these senses, even for me, are affected by disability (I move involuntarily). Impressing our senses on our work by holding the camera or not using audio or visuals can also impress what it's like to physically be us on audiences.
How do you manage the business partnership with Daniel Lee? How do your experiences complement each other?
The short answer is Daniel is the money-person and I am the content-person. Having said that, we are fully involved in each other's respective roles.
What is the biggest misnomer mainstream culture has about physically-challenged people like yourself?
That's easy! Our biggest difference is not my impairment versus your (in the general sense) lack thereof, but your preconceived notions about me. My impairment becomes a disability when those preconceived notions affect your behavior towards me.