Monica & David: The Right to an Independent Life

By Guest Blogger Alexandra Codina, Director/Producer of MONICA & DAVID

 A Photo of Alexandra Codina, Monica and David


MONICA & DAVID is a documentary that explores the marriage of two adults with Down syndrome and the family who strives to support their needs. Monica and David are blissfully in love and want what other adults have – an independent life. Full of humor, romance and everyday family drama, the film uses intimate fly-on-the wall footage to reveal the complexity of their story. While Monica and David are capable beyond expectations, their parents, afraid of mainstream rejection of adults with intellectual disabilities, have trouble letting go.


Monica is my cousin. We grew up in a close-knit Cuban-American family, and in high school, I volunteered at a program that Monica attended for adults with intellectual disabilities. I watched her flirt with guys, have her heart broken and eventually fall in love with the man of her dreams – David.


Several weeks before Monica and David’s wedding, I realized that there was an unspoken infantilization of their love. People continued to speak of their relationship as something “cute” and failed to acknowledge the serious adult commitment they were making. I wanted the world to see Monica the way I did – an intelligent, sensitive and nuanced woman. I wanted to get beyond their seemingly happy exterior to really know what Monica and David think and feel.   


Motivated by a gut instinct to share their story, I began filming. It took me a while to understand the many layers to their story and how Monica and David reflect the needs, challenges and dreams of many adults with disabilities and their families. Being so close to something can make you less aware. Growing up, Monica was just another member of the family. I knew that there were issues around acceptance and inclusion, but I hadn’t fully explored the bigger picture of the disability movement and how our family’s story fit into that context.


As I began doing research and speaking with advocates in the disability community, I realized that my understanding of disability was somewhat limited. Disability is such a broad term, which represents so many different, individual situations…the largest minority in the world! I could easily relate to Monica, David and their friends with intellectual disabilities, but I’d never fully considered the daily challenges of maneuvering non-accessible spaces for a person with a mobility-related disability. Or that for some Americans, even getting to the polls to vote can be a challenge.


At a certain point, it clicked. I cannot ask for inclusion and opportunity for Monica and David, unless I do the same for others. Until recently, I’d never thought about making video content accessible for people who are blind or vision impaired. It just wasn’t on my radar. But as soon as I learned about Audio Description, it was so obvious, why hadn’t I thought of this before? 


When I talk to people in the film industry about the importance of making MONICA & DAVID accessible, they often assume it’s because I made a film about two adults with a disability. Funny enough, I think the opposite. Audiences who are blind, deaf, vision or hearing impaired want access to the same content that everyone else watches and listens to. An audience member who is blind, for example, is likely more interested in “seeing” HARRY POTTER then in watching MONICA & DAVID. But at least I’ll make the effort with my film and hopefully, encourage others to do the same. 


The DVD release of MONICA & DAVID (both the Educational Edition and Home Video) will be fully accessible. This includes Audio Description in English for the feature film, DVD menu and all bonus material; and Audio Description in Spanish for the film only. Also included are subtitles for people who are deaf or hearing impaired in English & Spanish for the entire content of the DVD. It hasn’t been an easy process figuring out how to put this all together, but as a person who believes in a just and open world, there really shouldn’t be an alternative. 


So the next frontier? We need to make this a much easier process. I’m not sure who will take it on, but we need an open-source blueprint for creating accessible DVDs. The trickiest part is the Audio Described DVD menu, so having examples of that available in free, public forums would really begin to change the world. Because even if the film itself is audio described, you cannot access the content without assistance if the menu is too difficult to navigate.


To learn more about the film, or to purchase a DVD, please visit: www.monicaanddavid.com


An audio described copy of the film trailer can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QicT4XS5tIA


The Educational Edition of MONICA & DAVID will be available by mid-August, and the Home Video this December. The film will also soon be available to HBO subscribers on HBOGo.


MONICA & DAVID marks Alexandra Codina’s directorial and producing debut. She was named one of the “10 Filmmakers to Watch in 2009” by The Independent and was recently featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, ABC.com, Newsweek, Variety and The Huffington Post, amongst others. MONICA & DAVID won Best Documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival, had its world broadcast premiere on HBO and is currently nominated for an Emmy Award. The film is being distributed on TV & DVD in 14 countries, and continues to play to enthusiastic audiences around the world. Codina is a Visual & Media Arts Fellow for the South Florida Cultural Consortium; Tribeca All Access alumnus; and has received grants from The Fledgling Fund and Chicken & Egg Pictures. 

Alexandra’s film experience began 10 years ago, working in independent production in New York, driving trucks and limos to get on film sets and learn. Although she never studied film, Alexandra spent more than four years supporting the work of filmmakers as programmer & outreach manager for the Miami International Film Festival. She worked closely with Festival Director Nicole Guillemet and ran year-round programming.

Alexandra is currently in post-production on a short documentary, BILL, about a 96-year-old farmer, while exploring topics for her next feature film. Together with fellow local filmmakers, she is developing the Miami Film Fellowship to create community and support amongst peers. Closely involved with her community, Alexandra was recently awarded the Community Builder Award by The United Way of Miami and Barry University’s Laudare Medal. She is past Board Chair for Coconut Grove Cares and serves on the Alumni Council of the Women’s Fund of Miami-Dade. 

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