We are completely thrilled to announce publicly (after having to zip up our usually humungous mouths and keep it a secret for over 4 weeks!) that Best Kept Secret has been honored with a grant from The Sundance Documentary Fund.
An excerpt from the press release: "Sundance Institute today announced 27 feature-length documentary films that will receive $490,000 in grants from its Documentary Film Program and Fund (DFP). Cara Mertes, Director of the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and Fund said, “The grants announced today represent an incredible array of storytelling. Many of these films examine people, events and movements that tell a story of transformative change. Each film has the potential to bring this experience to viewers around the world."
It describes our film this way: “Best Kept Secret (U.S.)
Director: Samantha Buck
A Newark, NJ public high school teacher races a ticking clock to find a place in the world for her students with autism before they graduate and age out of their rare support system.
We are humbled to be in the company of such incredible and inspiring filmmakers from all over the world and thank the amazing team at Sundance - Rahdi Taylor, Cara Mertes, Kristin Feeley, Tricia Finneran (to name just a few) for their confidence and support.
The inimitable Newark Mayor Cory Booker came to JFK High School on Thursday, March 29th to visit the school, meet principal Dr. Johnson-Green, our heroine, Janet Mino, and most importantly, the 6 autistic young men in Mino’s class, who form the centerpiece of BEST KEPT SECRET. (Oh, he also wanted to talk about supporting the film.) Here is a compendium of the best photos taken that day, by our brilliant D.P. Nara Garber.
After the visit, Mayor Booker tweeted “Just finished an inspiring visit to a nwk’s JFK school serving autistic kids.” And when we thanked him, he tweeted back, “You all inspire me in bringing attention to our kids. I will help!” An amazing day, and a small step toward bringing this issue to light.
BEST KEPT SECRET is Seeking an Organized, Energetic Intern
Our team is seeking a talented and hungry intern to help us with BEST KEPT SECRET, a feature documentary about autistic young men in Newark, New Jersey. We are 80% shot and about to go pitch the film at the U.S.’s largest marketplace, IFP, in mid-September. We have an amazing, highly experienced, award-winning team of people working on it, and need an intern available 10-15 hours a week to help us: Promote the film via social networks, organize hard drives, organize promotional materials for IFP, make contact with interview subjects, general admin stuff, and keep track of grant deadlines.
(For more info about the film, you can watch our trailer on our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Best-Kept-Secret-Documentary/180743031998680)
Knowledge of Final Cut Pro and Photoshop is strongly preferred. The intern will work from home, but needs to be available to meet us at our offices when necessary.
We are fun, nice, funny, passionate, and highly experienced. We are also loyal. This is a great opportunity for someone who wants to get their feet wet in the world of documentary filmmaking. We can also give college credit and buy you drinks! And did I mention we are fun?
Email Danielle DiGiacomo (me) at firstname.lastname@example.org with your resume.
Fundraise. Shoot. Fundraise. Shoot. Edit. Upload. Fundraise. Shoot.
The crazy train that is BEST KEPT SECRET (and not the song by Black Sabbath), manages to travel along toward our destination, stopping to refuel with the generous donations and investments of people like you. (Okay, I think I maxed out THIS particular metaphor for a bit).
Since my last update, we celebrated Autism Awareness Month with a series of amazing events. Parents of our students were treated to a day of food and food for thought at JFK High School, where they got talk seriously with professionals who deal with autistic adults transitioning on a daily basis.
Erik, our class overachiever, had his IEP (Individual Education Plan) meeting, at which his case workers and foster mother evaluated how he has, and has not, progressed educationally.
Qu’ran, our quiet artist, took his father’s command to “Go Shave,” a bit too literally, and we were all taken aback to see his eyebrow-less face greet us one particular morning. Meanwhile, his parents keep tirelessly visiting different post-graduation facilities, in the hopes of finding one that perfectly suits his level of functioning and particular skills.
Meanwhile, the introduction of a female student into Miss Mino’s all-male class has caused quite the uproar among the young men; we’re talking playground showdowns!
So what do we need now? You guessed it, friends. Money. We feel blessed that we have been able to make this film without maxing our credit cards or fearing that some man in a suit will rush out of a car to smash us in the knees because we owe money, but it inevitably puts us in the inenviable position of begging. A Lot. We’re not too proud though, because we truly believe in the importance of this film, as well as its power as great cinema.
The link to contribute, TAX-DEDUCTIBLY, is HERE.
WE NEED $15,000 TO GET THROUGH PRODUCTION. After that, we will not ask anymore. We promise. You can give now JUST to SHUT US UP!
Month Three of the BEST KEPT SECRET shoot garnered some amazing developments, bringing us closer to the “boys” and our indefatigable teacher, Janet Mino, and allowing us deeper into their homes and worlds. We also were able to see more of the options (or lack thereof), for these young men when the graduate next June.
April is National Autism Awareness Month, with numerous events planned at both JFK and on field trips. It is also a month in which parents will become more involved with the school social worker, meeting with her to realistically examine the limited options of their sons.
We don’t mean to seem desperate, but we are. (So that’s just being honest, we suppose). If we do not raise $20,000, we cannot shoot this month. If we cannot shoot this month, the momentum of this incredibly important film is ruined. The link to contribute, TAX-DEDUCTIBLY, is HERE.
If you, or anyone you know/have ever met, are in any of the following categories:
1. Interested in supporting the arts
2. Interested in supporting social causes
3. Personally connected to someone with autism in any way
4. Interested in supporting special education programs and initiatives
5. Interested in investing in independent film and seeing their name up on the big screen at a Sundance Film Festival premiere
Then PLEASE pass along this update. We shot a lot of amazing stuff in the last three months, but we REALLY NEED to raise money (it costs us $20,000 a month) to continue or we will be, tragically, at a stand still and not be able to tell this amazing and important story.
Our feature documentary Best Kept Secret is a over a month into production and with each passing day, we are getting more and more immersed in the intensity and importance of our story and characters. We have spent hours with the students in their classrooms, on school field trips, and even their homes.
We are close to reaching our goal to get into March and be able to visit all the students families and more adult programs. We need to raise $15,000 in order do this. It’s easy — and tax deductible - to donate. (And if you are really skint right now (British for “broke”), which we, as struggling documentarians understand COMPLETELY, please do pass along to people who may be interested in the topic!)
Since we last sent an update, we have spent more time delving into both the lives of the students and the possibilities for their futures.
This past weekend, we went home with Quran, the only student who is being raised by both of his mother AND father. They are working parents who are completely dedicated to their son and have set up an apartment for him in their basement to instruct him how to live alone. They have also taught him how to travel, about the opposite sex, and how to say no in order to protect himself from harm. His father discussed how he had to accept Quran for Quran. ” At first I just wanted Quran to be a man like me, and then I realized Quran didn’t have a problem, I did. ” They are diligently looking for placement for their son. Listening to their story of trying to work and get the best options you can from the system was eye opening to say the least.
We also were lucky enough to have Quran work camera B during the shoot. Pictures of this shoot can be seen HERE
Yesterday we joined our teacher, Ms. Mino, and the transitions counselor to visit an adult work program in Newark. Ms. Mino was reunited with an old student who attends the program, Teshawn. He immediately recognized her and it was evident they still have a very strong bond. It was hard for the crew to hold in our emotions. The fact that Teshawn has found placemen is a wonderful thing, but Ms. Mino was openly upset by how much he has digressed in terms of language and communication since he graduated and lost her support and attention. The transition counselor reminded us all, this is not school, it is the real world. It is positive that , unlike many graduates, Teshawn has a place to go and work every day. In the adult world nothing is ideal.
Still, we are witnessing how daunting it is to find these young men placement after graduation and how complicated it is to navigate through the bureaucratic quagmire.
Thank you to all of you who have given in the past. You made a big difference to the life of the film. Please pass this along to anyone and everyone.
We can not reiterate more how any donation small or large helps. If you have not already, PLEASE HELP SUPPORT this urgent and important story.
Thanks so much for continuing to help us, listen to us, and support us. Our first week filming our feature documentary, Best Kept Secret, at Newark’s JFK High School has come to an end. And it has been more amazing than we could’ve hoped.
(DISCLAIMER: IF YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE READING THE ENTIRE UPDATE AND JUST WANT US TO CUT TO THE CHASE. THE CHASE IS THAT WE ARE SHOOTING WHILE FUNDRAISING, AND ALL DONATIONS HELP. YOU CAN DONATE TAX-DEDUCTIBLY HERE).
At this juncture, we’ve seen the distinct personalities of the six students, as well as Miss Mino, our incredible teacher and her two assistants, Delaney and Carlos, and have a much better sense of how far they need to go to prepare for the real world. Here are details of just three out of the six.
There is Matthew, the mischevious classmate. Matthew has been raised since the age of 5 by a foster mother, who is hoping to adopt him legally this year. His birth mother, a heroin addict, left him with a neglectful/abusive grandmother, who locked him in a room would only let him come out for school. She forced him to wear old clothes that were too small for him.. Over the past year, Matthew has been trained by the school janitor to help him clean and being taught basic custodial duties.
Eric (who has a special place in my heart) is at the top of his class — smart, talkative, and great at following directions. He is a joyful person, always smiling and enthusiastic. Eric has “two moms”; a biological mother who is in the hospital and too ill to care for him, and a dedicated and loving foster mother. Out of all of the students, it is clear that Eric is the one most ready to take on the real world and get a job.
Rahamid, who is not autistic but has Down’s syndrome, came to Miss Mino’s class as a last resort. A young man with a violent streak, he had been kicked out of every other classroom in the school. With Mino’s help, he has become much more functional, but is hindered daily by a crippling fear of plants. When the class went recently to clean a local church, it took 20 minutes to prompt him to walk past the bushes at the entrance.
Over the past week, we saw the boys light up in music class, play bingo, clean a local church, man the school store, go to the recycling plant, and get to spend their earnings at the mall, sitting in massage chairs and eating at Burger King, among other things. It is clear that each student has a hurdle they need to overcome, and this week, it has become abundantly clear the struggle Miss Mino and her staff have before them over the next year. We are thrilled and honored to be able to follow them, and tell this story.
While getting to know the kids has been an utter joy, the heartbreak comes at the end of the day, when we go home to digest, and think about the reality of what awaits these young men after graduating from the protective shell of JFK.
But we have a lot further to go. In the coming weeks, we aim to go home with the families, visit Eric and his mom in the hospital, go home with Miss Mino to see her in action with her four children, interview former students and their parents, other staff members, the career transition counselors, the current and former principal, and other institutions and jails where tragically, many of the other former students have ended up.
And we cannot do it without your help. Now that we are fully in production, we simply NEED to keep moving. In order to do so, we need to raise $50,000 over the next two months, and $10,000 in the next two weeks. YES, IT SOUNDS INSANE. but every little bit helps and adds up.
SO PLEASE MAKE YOUR TAX-DEDUCTIBLE CONTRIBUTION HERE TODAY. And if you are interested in investing on a larger level, please contact me directly.
Thanks so much for your continued support.
Danielle, Sam, and the BKS Team