With her debut feature documentary Is There Anybody Out There?, Ella Glendining set out to tell the stories of people with rare disabilities and medical conditions seeking to find like-bodied souls.

Among the subjects would be herself: Glendining was born with bilateral proximal femoral focal deficiency, which means she has no hip joints and short femurs.

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The filmmaker had already connected with producer Janine Marmot and received backing from Doc Society when, in the summer of 2018, and at the age of 26, she and her partner discovered, to their surprise, they were expecting a baby. With encouragement from her collaborators and backers, the focus of the film now shifted to Glendining’s personal journey, her at-times-difficult pregnancy and the challenges of motherhood to her infant son River, alongside her ongoing global quest. “I have always wanted to meet someone else like me,” she says. “I mean, why wouldn’t you, if you live in a world where you’ve never ever seen anyone remotely like yourself?”

Through several fiction, documentary and experimental shorts, the Norwich University of the Arts graduate has put disability at the heart of her storytelling, and Glendining intends to continue to do just that — including an ambitious period-drama feature she is also developing with Marmot. “I’m all about challenging those stereotypes of the pitiful disabled person or the inspirational disabled person,” she says. “That’s so, so boring to me.”

This year, having completed a 16-minute teaser for Is There Anybody Out There?, Glendining had intended to travel to India and the US to meet a man and a woman who share her rare condition. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, work on the documentary feature has been mainly limited to her own video diaries.

“I feel a bit embarrassed because I always end up putting myself in my films, it must seem that I am really self-absorbed,” she says with a laugh. “But if I try and look at it objectively and see how I hope this film can touch and affect people, I think I can get over it.”

Contact: Ella Glendining