In Is There Anybody Out There?, director Ella Glendining skillfully illustrates how subtler discrimination affects people with disabilities. Her documentary is a profoundly inspiring celebration of identity and a true act of love.
We watch as she bravely moves past any obstacles to triumph. Her story is as uplifting as it is unique, and it defies stereotypes. This is not the tale of a magical person with disabilities—Is There Anybody Out There? is a portrait of a highly relatable individual who quite simply opens your eyes to all kinds of possibilities.
A bold and charmingly confident woman, Glendining was born with a physical condition so rare that she can find no measurable statistics. Tracking people through social media, she soon discovers that she may not be completely alone. She embarks on a quest to meet some of these individuals and to discover more about how others are living with similar bodies.
As the film unfolds, unexpected things happen, and we watch Glendining adapt. Weaving in videos of herself as an energetic, rambunctious child and using a mix of direct address, interviews, and archival footage, she shows us that she is not the kind of person to let anything or anyone stop her.
Is There Anybody Out There? provides a greater understanding of the pressures people face to “fix” their so-called problems and even undergo painful and invasive surgeries. In the process, Glendining lays out a cogent analysis of society’s demands to conform to established norms, no matter the price.
Even as events alter the trajectory of the film, she rolls with the punches and her reactions present a deeper perspective into how these issues affect individuals and their loved ones. The film deftly demonstrates the harm that ableism wreaks on the disabled community while also raising important questions about individualism. It is a much-needed reminder to honour that which makes each and every person unique.
The filmmaker’s enthusiasm and indomitable spirit make this a deeply affecting and intimate doc—one that takes the viewer on a literal and emotional journey towards self acceptance. With Is There Anybody Out There?, Glendining has fashioned a brilliantly subtle but complex expression of herself that confronts assumptions around ableism. In her world, there is nothing to be fixed but plenty to be celebrated. And her infectious generosity gives us all a reason to cheer her bravery and thank her for the insight.