Best Kept Secret: Docu of Dedicated Teacher and Special Education Students

The documentary Best Kept Secret follows a dedicated teacher, Janet Minot, and her special education needs students over the year and a half before graduation.

Best Kept Secret

The key issues are relevant to many families and communities: the social and public policy implications when autistic kids “age out,” when they leave school? What are their options? What does a civilized society does for them?

At JFK High School, located in the midst of a run-down area in Newark, New Jersey, the nation’s 10th poorest city, administrators answer the phone by saying, “You’ve reached John F. Kennedy High School, Newark’s Best Kept Secret.” JFK is a public school for students with special education needs, ranging from those with autism to those with multiple disabilities.

Janet Mino has taught her class of young autistic men for four years. When they all graduate in the spring of 2012, they will leave the security of the public school system forever. A liberal, she is concerned with finding them a place in the adult world, a job or placement in a recreational center, so that they do not end up where their predecessors have, sitting idle at home, institutionalized, or on the streets. It’s an issue families, teachers and government officials are dealing with in various communities across the nation.

Director Samantha Buck:

The first question I get about Best Kept Secret is usually, “What is your personal relationship to autism?” Until making this film, I always thought the answer was, “None.” What I learned is that we are all connected to it. Autism is part of who we are as a society. Young adults who turn 21 are pushed out of the school system. They often end up with nowhere to go; they simply disappear from productive society. This is what educators call “Falling off the cliff.”

While I was on the festival circuit, I saw many films about young children with autism. These films were moving and important, but they only spoke of limited population-largely White and financially stable. But what happens to children with autism who grow up in less fortunate circumstances? I began to research public schools in inner city areas all and the best kind of accident of fate brought me to JFK and Janet Mino, a force of nature who changed my life. She has been a constant reminder to have faith, value every member of society, and believe in people’s potential.

While Best Kept Secret may not help all of our boys, I hope it will pave the road for better options for the young men and women who come after them. I want the same thing for the young people depicted in this film as I want for any young person, a chance at a good quality of life and a bright future.

Director Samantha Buck’s directorial debut 21 BELOW has aired on Channel 4 in the U.K. and YES in Israel. It was an official selection at Hot Docs in Toronto, AFI/Discovery SilverDOCS, Sheffield Doc Fest, Newport International Festival, Galway Film Fleadh, Helsinki’s Docpoint, and the Woodstock Film Festival. As an actress she played one of Vincent D’Onofrio’s partners on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and opposite David Wain on Stella. Other credits include: Third Watch, David Milch’s Big Apple, Golden Boy, Blue Bloods, Six Degrees and Z Rock, and Sex and the City. Film credits include Searching for Paradise, Wirey Spindell, 24-Hour Woman and Gayby. She can be seen in the upcoming films What Maise Knew and Hellbenders. Samantha is a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She currently attends Columbia University MFA Film program for directing.

Producer Danielle DiGiacomo is the Manager of Video Distribution at The Orchard, a pioneering, 15-year old independent music and video distribution company operating in more than 20 global markets. Previously, she worked as the Community Manager at IFP, the nation’s oldest and largest membership organization for independent filmmakers and as Head of Documentary Acquisitions for IndiePix Films. She associate Produced two documentary features, Jennifer Venditti’s BILLY THE KID (Best Documentary, L.A. Film Festival 2007, South by Southwest 2007), Samantha Buck’s 21 BELOW, and Andrew Semans’ fiction feature NANCY PLEASE, which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in April 2012. DiGiacomo was one of 6 producers selected to attend the 2011 Sundance Institute’s Creative Producing Lab, where she was the Mark Silverman Honoree.


Director: Samantha Buck
Producer: Danielle DiGiacomo
Executive Producers: Scott Mosier, Daniella Kahane, Mark Nordlicht, Paul M. Bernon, Sean Q. Curran and Jason Weissman
Director of Photography: Nara Garber
Editor: Francisco Bello
Writer/Co-Producer: Zeke Farrow