Dina (2017) is an unconventional love story featuring an autistic couple, Dina Buno and Scott Levin, and was the recipient of the U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
The movie charts the weeks leading up to Dina and Scott’s wedding day. From a touchingly intimate yet unobtrusive viewpoint, it reveals some of the pivotal moments in their relationship. Dina succeeds in smashing several of the pervasive stereotypes about disability and personal relationships, and we see some beautifully tender moments as this engaging couple navigate their changing circumstances against the backdrop of suburban Philadelphia. Scott can barely keep his eyes off the object of his affection but is anxious about physical intimacy given his inexperience with women, while Dina makes no bones about her physical needs having loved before. Scott’s sedate stag night – bowling with a couple of close friends – contrasts sharply with Dina’s raucous hen night, complete with male stripper, yet we can see that these two are perfect for each other.
It’s not every day you get to watch an award-winning movie starring one of your friends.
Although I’ve never met Dina in person, we’ve got to know each other well through years of connecting on social media. I have enjoyed her photos of Salem the cat, commiserated with her when she’s been the object of hurtful comments and witnessed how her relationship with Scott has blossomed. I have come to admire her greatly and I regard her as being a positive role model for people with neurological differences and developmental disabilities.
I must confess that because of my personal connection to Dina, I was slightly apprehensive about how the movie would portray her; too often, I have seen the narratives around disabled characters in movies and on TV strike a condescending or patronising tone. It’s almost become fashionable in particular to present autistics as freaks of nature. I need not have worried, since its directors and producers, Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles, present an unfailingly warm, respectful and authentic account of Dina (with whom they collaborated closely on the movie’s content during its development), never reducing her simply to a clinical diagnosis. They deal sensitively with the darker moments in Dina’s past – the loss of her first husband to cancer, the destructive relationships that followed and the serious physical assault that left her in a coma for three days.
Despite experiencing such difficult personal challenges, her positive attitude to life shines through and the movie is ultimately hopeful and uplifting. It captures perfectly the characteristics I love most about Dina, such as her open and expressive nature and her desire to connect with the people around her. Once you see the movie, you will fall in love with her too.
If you’re in the mood for humour, pathos and a privileged insight into the world of an extraordinary real-life couple, I heartily recommend you see Dina.
‘Dina’ has been showing in selected movie theatres in the US and UK and is available to buy on Amazon.