Monica & David: The Right to an Independent Life
Monica & David: The Right to an Independent Life

Categories: Community 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. 

15 Responses to Monica & David: The Right to an Independent Life

  1. Agus says:

    I watched this movie twice this weekend on HBO and loved it! Having found love with disabilities and life challenges such as they have is remarkable! They are a beautiful couple! The mothers of both Monica and David were single parents at some point in their lives and I think they both did a wonderful job in raising them! My hat goes off to Monica’s mother and step-father who have not only committed themselves to caring for Monica for the rest of their lives, but they have also taken on the huge responsibility of caring for David as well. They all are incredibly strong, loving, and beautiful people!

  2. Disability.Blog Team says:

    Samantha – to get a copy of MONICA & DAVID go to http://www.monicaanddavid.com

  3. Samantha L. says:

    It appears that Monica and David is a must seen movie. It gives you real scenarios on how life should be. I’m wondering where can I get a copy of it. I wanted to share this with my sister-in-law.

  4. Disability.Blog Team says:

    Neysa,
    Sorry for the late reply. I just checked Netflix, and it says, “DVD availability date unknown” for Monica and David. I would recommend checking back at a later date or visiting the offical Monica and David website at http://www.monicaanddavid.com

  5. Rose C. says:

    You touched me as a mother of a 23 year old daughter with autism and epilepsy it was important for me to here the mother (not sure if it was Monica’s or David’s) speak to us as parents being roadblocks to our childrens independence. Thank you for making this film.

  6. Lorraine F. says:

    A beautiful story … I am so pleased to hear about an account where love knows no bounds… and yes… individuals with DS or disabilities can lead rich and full lives! I was also wondering if it was possible to highlight another documentary/movie on this blog. It is called ‘Dakota’s Pride’ and it is a story about a father trying to understand his son’s diagnosis of Down syndrome. This movie documents the journey he took as he attempted to gain an accurate representation of this genetic disorder from parents, special needs educators, pastors, renowned physicians, advocates and grown adults living with Down Syndrome. He begins this journey in the vast unknown, as so many parents do when their child is diagnosed with a disability, but becomes empowered by the many uplifting stories he learns along the way. This is a very heart warming and inspiring portrayal of what it’s like to parent a child with Downs syndrome and shows that having a child with this disorder can be a blessing and something to celebrate. I knew very little about DS before viewing this video… it really captured my heart and showed me that individuals with disabilities are just like you and me and can accomplish amazing things… win silver medals at the Olympics… marry their true love… drive… graduate college… and open our hearts to vast possibilities. All the profits from this video fund a nonprofit organization call the Gifted-learning project … an organization that educates and provides information on the many different ways people with learning disabilities learn to overcome them and lead successful lives. Please contact me and let me know if you could feature Dakota’s Pride and I will write up a story/blog article for this beautiful story. Thanks!

  7. Jonathan says:

    A beautiful idea and approach. Congrats.

  8. Neysa says:

    I’m wondering if this film is available on Netflix?

    • Dawn says:

      Having just finished watching this brilliant and moving documentary, I am left with an inner warmth and strength. Monica and David are such wonderful, caring and compassionate people. Their family are so supportive and always there. If I were to meet Monica and David, I would love to sit for hours talking and sharing their beautiful energy. This program was just what I needed to watch and I feel honored to have shared an insight into their lives. Just beautiful!

  9. Jennifer says:

    I look forward to watching your film, my daughter, now 15, has Down Syndrome, and I struggle between protecting her and empowering her.

    • Anthony says:

      This is by far one of the best docs I’ve seen..and I’ve seen a lot. Right from the opening sences, I was spellbound. I learned a lot today, most of all I learned you are one of the most honest filmmakers I know. Kudos, and to David, I love how you think.

  10. Add A Website says:

    You can certainly see your enthusiasm in the work you write. The arena hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to say what they believe. All the time, follow your heart.

    • Naveen says:

      Who asked about the gene pool? What a fool. I guess you didn’t watch the documentary, did ya? The parts are making sure they don’t have a baby. But I’m more concerned about you procreating. Good luck Monica and David. And what great parents! Monica, your so lucky to have your stepfather who is now your legal father – what a guy. Thank god for your family.

  11. Paula says:

    It is about time. Now that is reality TV.

    • Vero says:

      I have a best friend back home that just had her fourth child, Gabriella. She was born with Downs. I also have a cousin that has it as well. The two children are on totally different paths. Gabriella’s parents were educated before her birth and do everything humanly possible to help her keep attaining higher levels of education and assimilation. On the other hand, my cousin has been raised like a pet. It is absolutely heartbreaking to see the latter happen. Monica and David inspired me so much for parents of children with Downs Syndrome. I know it’s too late for my cousin (she is 16), but please make sure anyone with a child with Downs sees this movie.