Dina Dir: Antonio Santini, Dan Sickles


Sexual frustration in your late forties isn’t fun, especially when you’re both on the autism spectrum, but this Sundance crowd-pleaser is sure to push all the right buttons for a Kiwi crowd.

The indomitable Dina, a widow who at 48 has had a second shot at love with her shy fiancé Scott. Though they both deal with mental developmental issues they navigate the hurdles of moving in together and preparing for their wedding.

Dina won the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and no wonder; it’s a perfectly put together, tender and frequently hilarious account of a middle-aged love story.

You can question why you’d have a documentary crew reveal your struggles so intimately but co-director Dan Sickles has been a long-time family friend, and he and Antonio Santini handle the unique situations with class beyond their years. Using no recorded interviews it actually feels at time you’re watching a scripted film.

The two young filmmakers only met the couple by accident, having moved as a team to suburban Philadelphia after Sickles’ parents passed away to work on another film. They came across the Abington Aktion Club, a social club for the mentally challenged where Sickles’ father had been a mentor to Dina. Their initial plan was to film the club as a whole but once they heard of her engagement they knew they’d found their angle.

Dina is hooked on the drama of the Kardashians and Caitlyn Jenner, supporting the former head of the family as she goes through a public sex change. It’s a fascinating contrast; the shaky-cam scripted reality shows with this still and honest documentary.

Boy is it honest…and hilarious too. An outrageous hen’s do, a sex shop visit and an unforgettable spa bath make for some frank and funny moments, though Sickles and Santini never laugh at their expense. And just wait till Dina unveils The Joy of Sex to Scott on a beach front promenade.

With such intimate access cinematographer Adam Uhl ditches the usual hand-held doco style and just parks the camera on a tripod, unobtrusively filming only in wide and medium shots, where we can be true bystanders. Filmed during summer, there’s a washed out look that takes it another step from the garish lives of the Kardashian lot.

A great soundtrack helps the romance too, mostly captured in camera with the likes of Tom Jones, Ray Charles and The Seekers. He might avoid physical gestures but the smitten Scott knows the love songs to sooth Dina, singing country classic Before the Next Teardrop Falls, and even 80s ballad Right Here Waiting For You in a heart-melting scene.

A fascinating romance beautifully captured by two newcomers who shine a light on a unique couple struggling like the rest of us, but with such warmth and heart you be hard-pressed not to leave the cinema with a smile across your face.

Clayton Barnett (https://www.youtube.com/user/claymonster22/videos)

NZIFF link: https://www.nziff.co.nz/2017/auckland/dina/