The bisexual and disabled filmmaker opens up about making her gamechanging documentary Is There Anybody Out There?
BY NIC CROSARA, IMAGE BY ANNEMARIE LEAN-VERCOE
In Ella Glendining’s documentary, Is There Anybody Out There?, she shares a powerful personal story of her life as someone who was born without hipbones and has extremely short femurs. She starts her film on a mission to find people with a similar disability to her and some unexpected events take place during filming – such as Ella’s pregnancy and motherhood journey and the Covid-19 pandemic – and by the end of the film, Ella’s gone on a huge journey. The film shines a light on what it is like to exist in an ableist society as a disabled person and it is truly a groundbreaking documentary.
I got the chance to talk to Ella, who is a certified bisexual icon, during this year’s Bisexual Awareness Week, ahead of the release of her film. There’s a fire in her eyes as we talk about her film over Zoom. Here’s what she had to say about making this film for her community.
DIVA: Something I immediately appreciated about your documentary was how it begins with a clip of you dancing. Can you tell me what made you start the film that way?
Ella: I started the film with a clip of me dancing for various reasons. When my editor saw the full dance, because I sent her loads of videos from my childhood and younger years to have a look at, she said that she found it really arresting, which I liked as a description. Because I kind of find it funny but she found it arresting as a non-disabled person.
That dance was a response to when someone was ableist towards me at a party. Creativity has always been my solution to dealing with that sort of prejudice. I think the reason that I wanted to open the film with it is that I very quickly get deeply vulnerable. I quickly go into lots of clips of me as a child and I’m talking about how alienating it feels to be so different, and I’m talking about my loneliness – and that’s important for the story – but I also wanted to make it clear like that I’m badass and that I do love myself.
We often hear from people who hold different intersectional identities that they didn’t want to come out when they were younger, as they didn’t want to add another thing to their identity that would make them “different”. Do you relate to this at all, and would you be comfortable sharing your own coming out journey?
I don’t think it was this huge bone of contention for me, although it’s not like I came out at school. I definitely knew I was bi from a young age, I knew that I just fancied whoever I fancied. I guess being disabled and being so visibly different just always kind of felt like a bigger deal for me in moving through the world.
I only had girlfriends until I dated my ex-partner Scott. I was 19 when I moved out and I told my parents, I’d already told my friends, and I had a girlfriend, Naomi – who’s in the film, we were together in our teens and now we’re just friends – I texted both my parents saying “I have a girlfriend and I’m bisexual” and my mum replied saying “no surprise there, honey” and my dad replied saying “accepted, love and miss you.” So my coming out story is very beautiful and I feel very very very lucky.
Another topic we discuss a lot at DIVA is that of internalised homophobia and transphobia. In your documentary, you talk a little about internalised ableism, when you were focused on giving birth in the “normal” way. Would you be up for telling me more about this?
Thank you for asking that question. It’s something that I wish I could’ve explored a bit more in the documentary because I thought that I didn’t have any internalised ableism, which sounds really silly, but yeah it was quite a big moment for me to realise that’s what was going on.
When the doctor said “you probably shouldn’t have an natural birth” it was really liberating because, I just suddenly was like “Oh my god, it literally doesn’t matter what my body can do! Like I don’t care, of course I don’t care I mustn’t care.” So I feel very proud now to have not been like this earth mother that I aspired to be. But when I meet earth mothers and they ask me how my birth was, I feel a bit defensive so there’s probably still some internalised ableism there.
What do you hope viewers take away from Is There Anybody Out There?
I really hope this film helps non-disabled people be less ableist. It’s a big goal, I know. I used to joke that I wanted this film to cure ableism and actually, I don’t think it’s going to. [Laughs] I was worried that I made a film that was actually a bit basic, because if you identify as politically disabled then you’re already obviously aware of the social model of disability. I had to communicate that in a simple way to make the film more universal.
But, I don’t know what it is, I don’t know if it’s how vulnerable I am in the film, or, I don’t know, but I really feel like this is speaking to disabled people in a really amazing and powerful way. I’ve had, I have had disabled people tell me that this film has been life-changing for them, which is obviously a dream come true.
I hope it’s eye-opening for non-disabled people. I hope it makes people less ableist. What I ultimately want to do with this film is just to humanise disabled people – it makes me sad in a way that that’s my goal because it’s just uh really sad that we have to – but yeah I also just want it to be a real like battle cry for my community.
Are there any other queer disabled filmmakers, or actors, you’d like to bring to our readers’ attention?
One of my closest friends, Kyla Harris, who is co-writing and starring in a comedy-drama series for the BBC called We Might Regret This. It’s such a fantastic show and she is so talented and so disabled and so queer and just the best and I’m really excited that we’re all going to be able to watch her show soon. This is going to be absolutely game-changing for the disabled community.
Are you working on any other projects you can tell our readers about?
I’m access coordinator on Kyla’s show which is exciting. In terms of my own creative work, I have a Film4 short called Pyramid Of Disunion which I wrote, co-directed and starred in that recently premiered at BFI London Film Festival.
But the big one is a historical drama that I’m writing at the moment for the BFI that I’ll also direct. Curiosities Of Fools is the working title. It’s about the life of a court dwarf in the 1600s and his journey to overcoming his internalised ableism and finding community within the court fools of the palace. So very similar themes but incredibly different setting. It’s going to be a very queer film and it’s really another massive celebration of community.
Get your copy of our October/November issue to read more from Ella.
Is There Anybody Out There? will be released in UK cinemas and at home on 17 November.
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