A Letter from DINA Director Dan Sickles

Filmmaker Dan Sickles discusses his film Mala Mala with BFI (photo: Youtube).

When people ask me where I’m from, and “the Philadelphia area” isn’t a sufficient answer, I tell them I’m from Ambler, Pennsylvania.

The truthful answer is that I was born and raised in Fort Washington, but a truthful answer is never as fun, or as accurate, as an honest one.

I say I come from Ambler, and not Fort Washington, because I grew into my curiosities, my humanitarian interests, and my identity as an artist at The Ambler Theater. The space is hallowed ground. I was introduced to Michael Haneke, and Alfonso Cuarón, and Robert Altman at this theater. I was confounded, and surprised, and moved at this theater. My perceptions were widened, my opinions encouraged, my ambition emboldened, all at The Ambler.

My first feature film, MALA MALA, played at The Ambler for one night. I remember how humbled and thankful I was to have been embraced by the tribe of cinephiles I grew up admiring. The people who program this theater, they’ve seen it all, and they were some of my best teachers as a kid. A poster hanging at The Ambler Theater whispered, “this film is worth your time. Even if you don’t like it, you should absorb it.”

Still from Dan’s 2014 documentary MALA MALA (photo: Strand Releasing)

The night MALA MALA played here, I was actually on-set for my new film. Without ruining the scene, I’ll tell you that I was in the middle of helping a male stripper get back to his home in South Philadelphia to tuck his daughter into bed before running back to The Ambler to do the post-screening Q&A. I showed up just on time, sweaty and elated from capturing what turned out to be a pivotal scene in the movie.

I remember that Q&A vividly; my Latin teacher from High School was in the audience, Magistra Moller, as was Patrick Redican, Debbie Thompson, and some of my late fathers’ best friends. One of my old babysitters showed up — so many people I hadn’t seen in years. It was overwhelming in all the best ways. That night the theater took on yet another meaning for me. This theater became a place of reunion.

Dina and Scott take a trip to Ocean City, NJ in Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini’s DINA (Photo: The Orchard).

Now, only two years later, I’m back at The Ambler. In some ways I guess I’ve never left. I strive to make movies for the audiences which populate these theaters, as its been my home away from home for as long as I can remember.

This time, I’m bringing a Philadelphia love story to The Ambler. Our new documentary DINA was shot in Glenside, Northeast Philadelphia, Ocean City, and yes, at The Ambler Theater.

To the programmers, the staff, and most importantly, the audiences — thank you for being here. Thank you for supporting independent cinema, and thank you for supporting an institution which will no doubt help raise yet another enfant terrible who strives to shake us, confound us, and make us love better and harder than we ever thought we could.

Enjoy the show.


Dan Sickles

Dan Sickles is a filmmaker born in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania who co-directed the celebrated 2014 documentary MALA MALA with his filmmaking partner Antonio Santini. His latest film DINA, also co-directed by Santini, won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentaries at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. DINA opens at the Ambler Theater on Thursday, October 12th. Sickles and Santini will be present for a Q&A following the 7:30pm screening on 10/12.