Film by Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini tells story of neuro-diverse woman and her fiancé
The acclaimed documentary Dina doesn't arrive in cinemas until October, but an enthusiastic audience in downtown L.A. got an early look.
The feature by Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini screened at the Sundance mini-festival Next Fest on Sunday, with the star of the film, Dina Buno, in attendance. The word "indomitable" comes to mind in trying to describe Buno, a woman with Asperger syndrome and other developmental challenges, who survived a near-fatal stabbing attack several years ago, inflicted by a former boyfriend.
In this crazy world comes a film that dares to be human, simply human.
Few people manage to project both strength and vulnerability, but those and other qualities -- candor among them -- earned Dina obvious affection from festival attendees. At a Q&A following the screening she spoke unabashedly about enjoying the attention the film has brought her.
"The movies, the cameras, everything, that's my thing. I've studied acting... I'm going to make it on stage whether people like it or not," she vowed, one of many comments that drew spontaneous applause.
Larry Wilmore -- co-creator of HBO's Insecure and former host of The Nightly Show on Comedy Central -- moderated the Q&A. He first saw Dina in January as a member of the Sundance jury that awarded the film the top prize for a U.S. documentary.
"This beautiful little gem called Dina hits the screen," Wilmore recalled of his initial impression. "I was mesmerized. I was so taken aback by it... In this crazy world comes a film that dares to be human, simply human."
The poster for Dina describes the film as a "real-life romantic comedy." Indeed, it follows Dina and her boyfriend Scott Levin, who also has Asperger's, as they move in together, become engaged and head down a twisting path toward marriage.
"It seemed to me this movie was really about intimacy," Wilmore observed. "It's about a bunch of different things," Dina amended, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Wilmore asked the directors about some of the influences on their film.
"We draw from a lot of different places. Like obviously we're researching sort of like the history of diagnosable cognitive differences, but also Matisse is in the colors. And Foucault is in the theory we use," Sickles responded. "We're pulling from this treasure chest... to sort of find our way of creatively telling this story."
A gallery of photos from the Next Fest Dina screening and after-party on Sunday, August 13, 2017. All photos by Matt Carey
Sickles' father, the late Ed Sickles, ran a club in suburban Philadelphia that provided support and community for people with disabilities, including Dina. Buno, who now serves as the club's president, called the elder Sickles a father figure and said her relationship with the younger Sickles extends well into the past.
"I go way back with Dan -- since before Dan was Dan," she revealed. "I was his babysitter-slash-nanny for five years."
In addition to the top prize at Sundance, Dina has earned additional honors this year from the Independent Film Festival of Boston, the Sarasota Film Festival and the Sun Valley Film Festival in Idaho.
Dina is set to open theatrically in October 6 in New York and a week later in Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and Documentary.org.