Doc/Fest: Intimate Narratives

Documentaries come in all shapes and sizes. Most feature talking heads; some include illustrations and artistic reconstructions and others collage together archive footage, but very few let a tripod direct shots as the subjects go about their everyday lives. However, Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles’ Dina is shot in just this way, with arresting results. The film feels more like an indie drama, and yet it still manages to drive home the reality of the narrative, which is – at times – very hard hitting.

Unsurprisingly, Dina, is a film about a lady called Dina who is shortly due to marry her fiancé Scott. Both Dina and Scott are neurodivergent; Scott names his Asperger’s outright and Dina’s mother casually discusses her “smorgasbord” of difficulties with a beautician. Santini and Sickles follow the couple as they move in together, get married, go on honeymoon and build a new life together. The doc is at once heart-warming and heart-breaking, as the pair navigate this new season of their lives under the shadow of a string of hardships that Dina has endured.

Part of the magic in the feature is the intimacy of the filming. Sickles has known Dina all his life; his Dad was the co-founder of a local organisation for developmentally disabled adults, the Abington Aktion Club, where Dina is a regular attendee. This long-term connection afforded Sickles and Santini a level of familiarity that is usually hard to come across. Opening at the dentist with Dina mouth-agape, the film captures everything from conversations about sex to the couple falling asleep, speaking to strangers on the bus and shopping for lingerie. There is so much ease in filming, Dina and Scott laugh at the TV, get changed and kiss without a glance at the camera.

The beauty of filming in this way is the voice it gives to Dina and Scott. Instead of layering the film with the voices of patronising experts or carers, Santini and Sickles let them tell their own story. The observational format gives the couple dignity and authority in revealing to the world what it is like to live with disabilities. Occasionally, it also gives them space to sing. Scott has an interest in memorising song lyrics, and in a particularly moving scene, he consoles Dina by finding a song on his phone he remembers she likes, and they sit side by side and sing along to it.

It can’t be denied that Dina is a very carefully crafted film with plenty of captivating shots, but it is Dina that makes it compelling viewing as more interesting and dynamic character than any protagonist a scriptwriter could dream up. She is absolutely committed to making this new relationship work regardless of her turbulent past, and we see her laugh, cry and dance her way through it.

Hannah Clugston

Dina, Sheffield Doc/Fest, 9-14 June,

1. Still from Dina, Courtesy of Doc/Fest.