Love stories in the making

May 26, 2022

Finding a love match when you have an intellectual disability is not an easy business. But six people with Down syndrome have tried to do just that with a film crew watching their every move.

Down for Love is a new primetime show screening on TVNZ 2 and filmed by Attitude Pictures.

The participants meet potential suitors on blind dates and go to some romantic destinations – the Rainbow’s End theme park, wine tasting and a harbour cruise in Auckland, Larnach Castle in Dunedin, and mini-golf. Some of the participants also meet each other on dates.

Some of the faces might be familiar. Carlos Biggeman, a 29-year-old Dunedin photographer, won the 2021 Attitude Creative Award. Libby Hunsdale, 20, from Whanganui, was the lead in last year’s feature film Poppy. Palmerston North actor Lily Harper, 32, starred in Wellington’s Circa Theatre production of Up Down Girl last year. Aucklander Leisel Shepherd, 21, works with her Mum selling make-up and skin-care products. Snowboarder and mountain biker John Halliday, 38, from Alexandra, already has a ring picked out. Aucklander Josh Bradley, 21, is a keen clubber and feels it’s time for some serious dating.

Attitude Pictures’ Series Producer Robyn Paterson and Dan Buckingham, Attitude Pictures’ CEO and Executive Producer, found the cast through community organisations, social media and their Attitude networks. They say it is important that those who are part of the series are genuinely keen to be involved and looking for love.

Attitude Pictures has collaborated with the New Zealand Down Syndrome Association in developing the series. NZDSA sent out the casting call through its networks, saying the show would highlight the strength and diversity of the Down syndrome community.

Many of the participants share the steps they have already taken, or would like to take, to find a partner. In cases where participants are looking for some guidance and advice, they speak with a relationship expert.

The search for love is often contentious and difficult for those with intellectual disabilities, for all kinds of reasons. The series canvasses this. Robyn Paterson and Dan Buckingham say this is something they were acutely aware of going into the series. Several of the participants and their families talk about the issues – among them how some families find it hard to let their children go into adult relationships – and the challenges they have faced so far.

“We ensure the person we are filming with gets to lead telling their own story, with wrap-around support and context coming from others in their life. Our hope is that the series will improve people’s understanding of living with an intellectual disability, by providing a platform for people to share their experience,” Robyn says.

Down for Love is screening on Mondays on TVNZ 2.

Caption 1: Down for Love cast (from left) Carlos Biggeman, Leisel Shepherd, Josh Bradley, John Halliday, Libby Hunsdale and Lily Harper.

Caption 2: Josh Bradley treats his date Hayley Rubie to a day at Rainbow's End.


This story was published in Strong Voices. The magazine is posted free to all IHC members. Read the full issue of Strong Voices or view more articles.