Every Speed is a short experimental documentary that looks at the meaning of movement for people with and without physical disabilities – both in terms of design and accessibility of cities and transportation as well as personal experiences of movement – in the context of a culture that places value on independence, speed, and physical ability.
Historically, people with disabilities have been denied accommodations based on arguments of cost, yet able‐bodied people take for granted their reliance on city planning conveniences and a vast and expensive transportation infrastructure. Using voiceover interviews with individuals with and without disabilities, the film explores how city and transportation design both differentiates and unites people with diverse physical abilities. Interview subjects speak about how public and individual modes of transportation – from using a prosthetic leg to riding the bus – shape identity, ideas of temporality, and personal and communal experiences of moving around the city. These themes are conveyed through the pacing and timing of the cinematography, editing and subtitles, such that the viewing of the film itself is similar to waiting for the train or the elevator, or commuting on a slow-moving trolley. The viewer can imagine these familiar everyday navigation processes in conventional urban space through the lens of unconventional mobility. We use the technique of rotoscoping – tracing individual frames of video and creating an animated sequence – to further comment on how physical ability relates to universal urban design. The animation sequences consist of several types of transportation, including bikes, boats, wheelchairs, trolleys, and escalators, with the individual users shown separately from the vehicles. This emphasizes the bodies’ movements in relation to others and to the missing vehicle, and also highlights the vehicle moving without its operator/function. The rotoscoped sequences strip away everything but the outlines of bodies moving in white space, enabling us to hone in on the complexity of our movements as well as the systems that help us get around. In the animated escalator scene, the escalator is removed from the drawings: A man carries his bike down the escalator, a visually-impaired man rides down with his cane, people carry large shopping bags, and individuals stare off into space while being effortlessly transported to a different level in a building. The sequence highlights the minuscule movements of the people’s hands on the escalator ledge and their slight shifts in body weight – movements that are often routine and subconscious but are in fact learned skills.
Through the conceptual devices of the animation and the voiceover interviews – which do not reveal the faces of the interview subjects – Every Speed removes the focus from individuals, some of whom may be accustomed to people staring at their physical disabilities, and increases awareness of the unifying experience of dependence when it comes to traveling around a city.
© 2016 Lindsey Martin and Julia Fuller