With superb access to her cousin Monica, director Alexandra Codina documents totally unguarded moments from the most casual food preparation to the momentous marriage. Codina also provides some context for those less acquainted with Down syndrome individuals. This includes the historically, often cruel, personal and professional attitudes; for example, shortly after Monica was born, her doctor walked into 19-year-old mother Maria's room, said, "Your baby is a Mongoloid," and walked out. With huge strides in understanding and medical advances, the picture is now much improved. While individuals with Down syndrome had a life expectancy of 25 years in 1983, it has now extended to 60. As important, Codina points out and demonstrates that those with Down syndrome want what most of us want: love, work and independence.
Codina is a realist about all of this. She shows Monica and David's limitations in ability and perspective, asking both about Down syndrome and handicaps. Monica replies that "handicapped" means someone in a wheelchair, someone who cannot stand up or hear or talk. David says that he doesn't have handicap, that sometimes he has Down syndrome and sometimes not, and elaborates on his definition with inaccurate details. Both also have higher job expectations than are warranted and an unrealistic assessment of the desirability of a baby and all that entails.
However, in so many ways, Monica and David model the ideal loving couple. They support each other in commendable ways with hearts more open and accepting than many partners find, and they're certainly nicer than a lot of people we've all encountered. Still, their lack of awareness and their vulnerability warrants Maria's caring, some might say overly protective, behavior and explicitly pronounced concerns. Remarkably, in detailing the complexity of Monica and David's world and the devoted families both enjoy, Codina never patronizes, infantilizes, or idealizes the situation. Her insights throughout Monica and David emerge honestly and objectively from her observations, and she provides all of us a rare glimpse into its multifaceted aspects—the joys and the challenges. This is a noteworthy documentary that intelligently offers insights into lives few of us have dealt with as closely as Codina.
Not available for preview, Papers kicks the Multicultural Committee Film Series off with a look at the challenges facing undocumented youngsters in the U.S. turning 18. The second film, The Other City, examines the areas of Washington, D.C. away from governmental centers, those places in D.C. that usually gain little coverage.
All three nonfiction films screen at Webster University's Winifred Moore auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Papers screens Thursday, April 7th, The Other City on Friday, April 8th, and Monica and David on both Saturday, April 9th and Sunday, April 10th. For more information and the current schedule, you may call 314-968-7487 or you may go to the web at: Webster dot EDU forward-slash film series.