by directors Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini
I first met you at Dan’s father’s funeral. A group of us were sitting quietly in the back room of his aunt’s house in Philly when you asked us how we’d known his dad. Before I could speak up, you told me that he was like a second dad to you and that he had started the leadership and service club for adults who are neurodiverse, the Kiwanis Abington Aktion Club, where you currently serve as President. Everyone was quiet and you seemed to be bursting at the seams to speak up; somehow you were both devastated and eager to meet and become friends with all the strangers in the room.
You became “the chatty woman from the funeral” in my head. That was the first impression: your friendliness at a funeral and your capacity to cut through the tension of a room. Dan invited me along to visit the Aktion Club; both he and the club members had lost a paternal figure and you guys needed to grieve together. There you were again, this time in the basement room of the Abington public library, amidst a group of adults brought together by having been labeled “Different,” either for an eccentricity of the mind or a difference of the body. It was too soon then to start filming, but we came back a few months later and filmed everyone from the club introducing themselves to the camera. At first the movie was going to be about all the club members. We don't remember how you did it, but you stole the show and the movie zoomed in on you.
That’s what you do. You steal the show. “I can’t help it,” I can picture you saying. “I’m a real ham,” you told us laughing at yourself while watching the first cut of the movie. “I’m a sassy diva,” you said after the audience at Sundance applauded you at the premiere. “I'm too funny,” I saw you comment on a picture of yourself our distributor posted on Facebook.
When we did an initial three-day master interview in your house, we knew instantly that was the wrong approach to tell your story. What Dan and I loved was watching you go around Glenside, like scenes unfolding in real time: Dina at the nail salon, Dina at the cat groomer, Dina at the dentist's office, Dina on the bus. You react to your surroundings, and that reaction creates magic and states everything that needs to be said, no interview needed. While we mic’d you, you told us that you hoped one day someone would make a real movie about you. Dan, Adam and me looked at each other, holding the camera and light panels, and said “It’s already happening...right now.” But no, you meant a “Real” movie, like one on Lifetime or TLC, with Rosie O’Donnell playing you and Adam Broady as your love interest, Scott. We knew then that we needed to build a film around you, one whose aesthetic and style of shooting never competed with you as the center of its attention.
You had just gotten engaged to Scott. How lucky that we were there for the beginning of love. Dan, Adam and I were all in love at the time and on every shoot trip we learned from the dance between you and Scotty. You told us you thought you’d never love again after losing John, your first husband, the man whose schizophrenia you supported instead of holding it against him. During filming when you’d get hard on yourself, you explained to us that you’d been attacked and had been left in a coma by a man you were dating. You told us you’d “train” us to learn how to care for you, the same way you were teaching Scott how you wanted to be loved.
It’s crazy to think that when Dan and I first started talking to people about making this movie we were told that people diagnosed with autism “don’t understand humor” and are not “interested in the world outside of themselves.” On our first trip to visit you at home you debunked that myth, reading to us the initial pages you’d written for your memoir, I Was Born on the Wrong Planet, the story of how unwelcoming the world had been since your arrival and all the joy you had to create for yourself. We understood then that you wanted to tell your own story, instead of having someone else come along and speak on behalf of your experience.
...And now you’re the protagonist of your own real-life romantic comedy. Who gets to say that?
We are so proud of you Dina and excited for the world to get to know you. The world could use a bit more of you right now.
We know you still want a “real” movie made about you. One starring Rosie O’Donnell. That's fine by us, as long as Nicole Kidman plays your mom, the iconic Rita Fox.
Thank you for having us as your collaborators to tell the story of who you are. We love you, Miss Dina, or as you like to be referred to as, “Kangapooh.”
Dan and Antonio