Alexandra Condina's "Monica & David" is screening as part of the World Documentary Competition at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. The film follows the two people in its title, Monica and David, who are truly, blissfully in love. They also happen to have Down syndrome. Both have strong and long relationships with their respected mothers. Ali Codina's affectionate documentary is an intimate, year-in-the-life portrait of two childlike spirits with adult desires as they prepare for their fairy tale wedding and face the realities of married life afterward. Taking immense pride in their new roles as husband and wife, David wants to bring home the bacon, and Monica wants to fry it in the pan. They want babies of their own. But their unique circumstances still have them living with Monica's mother and husband. How will this unique family face its challenges and move forward?
Codina is also Monica's cousin, lending a warm, familial quality to the filmmaking. The camera is just another member of the household—it is winked at and confessed to, and the door is closed in its face as Monica and David settle in for their first night as a married couple. Their tender kisses and pet names are captured and treasured, but along with their story is one of two different mothers who sacrificed and struggled against an intolerant world to provide for their children. [Synopsis provided by the Tribeca Film Festival]
"Monica & David"
World Documentary Feature Competition
Director: Alexandra Codina
Producers: Deborah Dickson, Alexandra Codina
Editor: Mary Manhardt, Paola Gutiérrez-Ortiz
Director of Photography: David Fenster, Juan Carlos Zaldivar, Abel Klainbaum
Composer: Steven Schoenberg
Editor’s Note: This is one interview in a series profiling directors whose films are screening at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.
Director Alexandra Codina on how she got started in film…
Growing up I loved watching classic and foreign films, but didn’t have much access to documentaries or independently made work until college. That’s when I first realized that film combined my passions—art, languages, social change and understanding worlds outside of my own. I never went to film school, but spent years doing freelance work - anything to get on a set and learn. Probably the most interesting turn was working with Nicole Guillemet at the Miami International Film Festival in 2003. She had an amazing vision of what a festival should be and how to support filmmakers, while reaching out to the local community.
On the inspiration for "Monica & David," her first film…
I wanted to make a film for a while, but was waiting for the right story. Several weeks before my cousin Monica’s wedding it finally hit me. Everyone was very happy for Monica when she found David, but there seemed to be an unspoken feeling that this was a cute gesture between two kids, rather than a serious adult commitment. My initial motivation was my love and admiration for Monica and David, and frustration with people’s lack of understanding. As the project progressed, I began to understand the profound issues, including the vague line between adult and child, and how that inability to easily define Monica and David allows people to shut them out. I wanted to give people the opportunity to experience their world in an intimate way.
On the challenges of working with family…
Shooting family is very difficult, especially when you are close to them. We shot the majority of the film during a time of chaos and transition, when Monica and David moved from their home of many years into smaller apartment almost an hour away. I dreaded having to call my aunt to ask for shoot days, and although she was very open in front of the camera, she hates having her photo taken. It was a huge relief when my family saw the film and loved it, especially Monica and David who are natural born stars.
On how audiences will respond to her film's subjects…
Monica and David’s love, charisma, and humor are contagious. By the end of the film, you want to be their friend and continue to spend more time with them; at least I hope that people will feel that way. I know that there are two very different perspectives for audiences coming to see this film - those who have personal experience with individuals with Down syndrome or other disabilities, and the majority of audiences who have never had a conversation with an adult with an intellectual disability.
I worked closely with [the film's producer] Deborah Dickson and am a big fan of her work, including "Lalee's Kin." Frederick Wiseman is also very inspiring - "Public Housing" and "Titticut Follies."
and looking toward the future…
I’ll be editing a short on the last season of a 96-year-old farmer in rural Connecticut, and am considering producing a project. I’m also going to spend time learning to shoot and the basics of editing.