Skip to content

#HotDocs23 Review: Is There Anybody Out There?

May 4, 2023

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The 2023 Hot Docs Film Festival runs from April 27th to May 7th in Toronto, more information on tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

Ella Glendining’s Is There Anybody Out There? is a remarkable documentary about disability and ableism, starting as the filmmaker’s own personal journey of trying to find another person who looks exactly like her, and becoming so much more than that. The result is a wholly inspiring, moving, and surprisingly joyful experience.

Ella was born without hip joints and short femurs, and has searched all her life to find another person with the same disability as her. She starts her search on Facebook, but finds mostly parent groups, and discovers that most babies born with the same condition undergo extensive limb-lengthening surgeries in early childhood to make them appear more “normal.” The specialist behind these surgeries is a man by the name of Dr. Paley, who is notorious in this world.

But Ella raises fascinating questions about the ethics of doing these surgeries before kids can even consent to them. The journey takes her to a lot of interesting places, with Ella’s own perspectives changing when she unexpectedly finds out she is pregnant with her able-bodied partner, and starts thinking about becoming a mother herself.

The film is about self-acceptance, but it also goes deeper than that. Ella explores ableism in society, both externalized and internalized, very much coming to the conclusion that it’s others who judge her unique body that need to have their perspective changed. It is Ella’s disarming candour and humour that makes her film so compelling to watch, as she talks openly to the camera through video diaries, interviews her parents about raising a disabled daughter, and meets with others in the community.

In delightful scenes of Ella hanging out and drinking with her best friend Naomi, who happens to be autistic, they share their different but similar perspectives on living with a disability, one that is visible and the other invisible (as a side note, Ella spoke in the Zoom Q&A after the screening I saw about the importance of showing disabled adults getting drunk and smoking, when disabled people are often infantilized). In another incredible scene, she meets with her childhood doctor.

Guided by Ella’s powerful, first-person perspective, Is There Anybody Out There? is one of the finest documentaries about disability that I have seen. It’s inspiring without feeling false, and works both as a positive educational tool for those outside the community, and a wholly affirming experience for those within it. A personal favourite of the festival for me.

Screenings: Saturday, April 29th, 1:30 PM at Isabel Bader Theatre; Friday, May 5th, 2:00 PM at Isabel Bader Theatre. Tickets can be purchased here.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: