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Ask the Filmmaker


Teacher Janet Mino and the families from Best Kept Secret joined filmmakers Samantha Buck and Danielle DiGiacomo to take your questions on Wednesday, September 25, 2013 from 7-8:30 PM ET (4-5:30 PM PT).

POV: Welcome to POV's live chat with the filmmakers and film subjects from Best Kept Secret. We'll get started at 7 PM ET (4 PM PT). Please feel free to post your questions ahead of time.

POV: We're going to get started now. Welcome, Samantha, Danielle, Alyce and Janet. Thank you for joining us!

Samantha Buck: We are happy to be here!

Danielle DiGiacomo: Hi everyone, thanks for having us!

Alyce Barnhardt: Hello, all

Janet Mino: Hello everyone, I'm happy to be here.

Comment from Linda J.: I loved the movie, Ms. Mino and the young men. Have you received any feedback about the lack of programs/resources in NJ from Cory Booker or Chris Christie?

Samantha Buck: No, not yet.

Samantha Buck: Mayor Booker knows about the film and did support it. Senator Menendez of NJ is working on new legislation called the AGE IN Act.

Danielle DiGiacomo: Cory Booker is aware of the film, but he has not said anything to us about providing services. We would love to share the film with Chris Christie and see what he has to say about it, and hopefully be affected enough to reach out and take the initiative to help start new programs and give more resources.

Comment From June: First I must say that this film is an excellent portrayal of the realities people with autism face when they are older. I have an older brother with autism characteristics similar to dear Robert. I do have a young son who is on the higher end of the spectrum and I am very worried about what resources will look like when he is older. I have two questions. How is Robert doing now? His story was so touching and I have not been able to stop thinking about him since the movie aired. Also, Ms. Mino, do you feel that the parents of the students featured are disconnected to their children's abilities? It seems as if you had higher goals for their children than they did. I am currently in my senior year, majoring in special education, and you are what I aspire to become. Thank you so much Ms. Mino. You make the world a better place for people like my brother and son.

Janet Mino: Thank you for your comment, last I heard about Robert he was back with his mother. No I don' t think that at all.

Samantha Buck: We have reached out to Robert's Aunt but she has not returned calls. We did hear through the grape vine that his Aunt had to give him up and is back living with his mother. We are all heartbroken about Robert's situation.

POV: Alyce, how is Erik doing? Is he now working at Burger King?

Alyce Barnhardt: Erik is doing fine. However, He has not been able to return to Burger King...Needs a job coach

POV: Samantha, what were the biggest challenges in making Best Kept Secret?

Samantha Buck: Making this film was an honor for all of us, The hardest part was not the filming it was going home at night and thinking about the guys and what was going to happen to them. Honestly, I still think about Robert all the time and wish there was something that we could have done to give him a better ending.

Comment From Ramon Castelo: I really enjoyed the film. My question is for Ms. Mino. Ms. Mino, do you have a blog for teachers, parents, and legislators to serve as platform for ideas, resources, and discussion to help individuals with Autism?

Janet Mino: Currently I do not but I am working on that.

POV: Janet, are there any budget cuts right now at John F. Kennedy School?

Janet Mino: All public schools have some type of cuts unfortunately.

POV: Danielle, are there any new "aging out" programs currently being developed?

Danielle DiGiacomo: Well, very specifically, Janet Mino is developing a program called The Valentine Center as we speak. We have some amazing, generous, business leaders who are helping to use a business incubator in New Jersey to help her start this. It is already a 501c3, and it will combine work training and programs with recreation. Janet is currently raising money for this.

POV: Janet, that sounds amazing. Do you have any other updates on the program?

Janet Mino: We're working very hard on developing a program that will include everyone on the spectrum and I would like to thank all the people who made a donation.

Comment From Maral Boyadjian: Ms. Mino, my father was a special education teacher in Richmond, CA for 35 years. You and my father are one in the same. So many of his colleagues burned out so quickly, but he remained. To this day, he expresses how much he enjoyed working with the students. What burned him out? The administrators. Please don't let that happen to you! You are a national treasure!

Janet Mino: Oh thank you so much.

Comment From Ramon Castelo: Samantha and Danielle, can you describe why and how you developed the idea for the documentary? What was your inspiration?

Samantha Buck: The original inspiration came from a friend of mine in NYC who teaches in a self-contained classroom in a public school. She had the most amazing stories about her students. at the same time I was on the festival circuit with my first film and saw many films about autism. Most of them were about younger children with more financial means.

It got me thinking. Then a parent in the Bronx introduced me to the phrase "falling off the cliff." That is when we realized where we should really focus our story. We got very lucky and met Janet Mino, the guys, their families, and the whole gang at JFK.

POV: Alyce, how did you decide to sponsor children on the autism spectrum?

Comment From MP: That's true about many of the other films on this topic featuring families with more resources. I know that many of the students I teach are going to appreciate that you highlighted families without extra resources.

Samantha Buck: Thank you! We really hope so.

Comment From MP: Thank you. And Janet, it is amazing that you, the students and the families were able to allow filming over 18 months. Thank you

Alyce Barnhardt: I didn't seek out persons with autism; I was introduced to Erik through the agency I work with and after the initial meeting it was a match made in heaven. My agency continues to give support and training throughout the year

POV: A question from Angela via our Facebook page: How long did it take for the students to be comfortable with the cameras? And how many people were on the crew, interacting with the students and teachers?

Danielle DiGiacomo: It's funny; we were extremely nervous and had no idea what to expect when we walked in with the camera, and our big microphone, etc.

But, after an initial few minutes, "the guys" (as we call them) couldn’t have cared less. They just live in the moment, so they went about their days. In fact, we'd try to get their attention sometimes because we loved them so much :)

Samantha Buck: We had a very small crew. Me, Danielle, our AMAZING Director of Photography Nara Garber, a sound guy and occasionally a PA. We wanted to keep it intimate.

Comment From Linda J.: Janet, I was interested in the response of the man at the day care program that provided transportation. Were any of your programming suggestions implemented?

Janet Mino: Unfortunately no

Comment From Guest: I really liked the Documentary especially Ms. Mino. She is awesome my question is do u think if the boys would have been in inclusive education, with people without disabilities do u think the end result would be different

Janet Mino: Well, I think if my boy would have had early intervention the result would have been so much different. Children in the inner city are diagnosed late.

Comment From Michelle Denny First of all, I truly enjoyed your documentary. Ms. Mino, you are a gem. I am the parent of a child with autism, and I see so much of Robert in him and so much of my son in Robert. I am a little disappointed that there aren’t more updates for the status of Robert though... Is there a social worker or anyone that will be following up or checking in on him?

Janet Mino: You have to remember once they leave the school, if they don't want to keep in touch with us they don't have to. I tried to reach out to Robert's family but his phone is disconnected.

Janet Mino: The social worker try to reach out to the graduated students to see if she could assist them in any way, but it is up to the caregiver and after they turn 21 certain services stops.

Comment From Ellie Lee Brown: I want you to know what an inspiration you are! Please know that you are so appreciated. Every ounce of what you do. Thank you so much for being a blessing. It matters and I hope you hear it often enough.

Comment From Veronica Nicole Navarro: Janet you are a wonderful teacher. I am 22 with mild CP and NVLD and OCD. In high school the sped teachers did not help me that much with transitions. Thanks for caring soo much. I asked about the mainstreaming question. My mom is Black and she works at UCSF as the vice chancellor for diversity.

Comment From Nyree: Hi Ms. Mino, I commend you for the dedication that you have for the students, parents and caregivers. I stumbled across the documentary Monday night September 23 here in Florida. My heart goes out to the young men especially Robert. I cried and prayed for them half the night and continue to do so. This documentary has opened my eyes in such a heartfelt way that my children and I desire to know more about autism. Since Monday night I have thought about Robert and where he is and is he alright. When I prepare meals for them I think about is he eating. Is he safe. Is there anything that I can do to help him. I believe strongly that he cannot be left behind. If there was a way for me to adopt him I would. I don't say that lightly. Robert and all of the young people deserve a rich life full of love and support. It breaks my heart to the point that I'm joining my local autism organization and start there and work my way up to the state and beyond. I'm learning daily about autism. I do not have family members with autism. In fact while in class today I learned that one of my classmates have a son with autism. This is worldwide. Yet I am only one person and If I can join with others I believe that we can make a difference in the lives of these and other young adults. They are not different than any one of us. They just look and communicate with the world in other ways.

Janet Mino: Thank you.

Janet Mino: I'm so grateful that you got it, you hit the nail on the head. They are just like us but they have another way of thinking and that's not a bad thing. May God bless you :)

Comment From Ellie: I want you to know how amazing, inspiring and appreciated you are. You probably feel like it's you against the world and I just want to tell you what a blessing you are. Thank you!

POV: Alyce, how is your relationship with Erik's mother Bessie?

Janet Mino: I had wonderful parents to work with, so it was us against the system.

Alyce Barnhardt: Our relationship is great! We both want the best for him. There is no competition between us. He calls me "Mom," however, the first time I dropped him off for a visit, he didn't call me "Mom" :( out of respect to his Mother. I'm OK with it now.

POV: Samantha and Danielle, how have audiences reacted to the film?

Danielle DiGiacomo: Well, they have overwhelmingly loved the film. There are so many different people from so many different backgrounds, experiences, and walks of life who have seen it, and all of them agree - even if they do not have a loved one on the autism spectrum - they know what it is like to love a child, or be a parent, etc. - and so they emotionally relate.

Also, overwhelmingly, they are inspired by how incredible Janet Mino is, as well as the parents in the film.

At work today (I DO have a day job in film distribution :) ), about six people came up to me, including the CEO of the company, to say how they were so inspired by the film, that they cried several times, and what a remarkable person Janet Mino is.

At past screenings too, we have had standing ovations for Alyce and her husband Maurice, and for Qurans' parents, the Keys.

The love, hope, and sheer commitment of these incredible people inspires everyone who sees the film.

Samantha Buck: Yes! We have not been at a screening where Mino has not received a 5 min standing ovation. It is amazing. As well as standing ovations for Erik and Quran.

Danielle DiGiacomo: I think it is a film that everyone can really relate to, whether they are personally connected to autism or not. But I love to see teachers watch it. My twin sister is a teacher, and she has a special connection to the film; she wants all her teacher friends to watch.

POV: Samantha and Danielle, what is next for Best Kept Secret?

Danielle DiGiacomo: WELL. . . We are doing crowdsourced screenings through an organization called You can go to this link to host a screening in your community:

We hope to get as many screenings set up around the country as possible!

Samantha Buck: We are planning a congressional screening in Washington DC this October with Senator Menendez and Senator Durbin. We hope it will help push legislation like The AGE IN Act.

Danielle DiGiacomo: After that, we are going to be available digitally via iTunes and Amazon Instant Video on November 19th! There will be more info on our website about that soon.

A couple of months after that we will be available on Netflix.

Comment From Nyree: Samantha and Danielle, do you think that in a couple of years the both of you will produce a follow-up documentary about the school, Ms. Mino, the students, the young men in this documentary and their families?

Danielle DiGiacomo: We really want organizations like the Autism Society and other autism advocacy groups to screen this film to their members and get the word out. We want this film to affect change on a national level that translates to the local level.

Samantha Buck: Many people ask us that. I hope to always be involved with the guys, their families, and Mino but we do not know if we will do a follow up or not at this point. It will depend if the timing and need seem right.

POV: Thank you so much Danielle and Samantha -- we look forward to following the film's distribution and work with legislation. What projects are you working on next?

Danielle DiGiacomo: We have a couple of projects in development - one is a documentary and one is a fiction film. Samantha can let you know if she is at liberty to disclose anything about them :)?

Samantha Buck: Danielle and I are developing a fiction film that is inspired by the lives of real women in politics in Dallas, Texas in the early 1980s. The non-fiction piece I will be happy to disclose when I can :)

POV: Thanks. Janet and Alyce, is there anything else you'd like to share with our viewers?

Janet Mino: Thanks everyone for your wonderful comments and please continue to support the Valentine Center that I am currently working to establish. It is a much needed place for our aging out young adults in the inner city.

Samantha Buck: Yes. Thank you all for your wonderful comments about the film! And please look out for information about the Valentine Center and the AGE IN Act.

Alyce Barnhardt: Remember to 'let your light shine' for Autism

Danielle DiGiacomo: Thanks everyone!!

POV: Thank you so much for your time and insightful answers, Samantha, Danielle, Alyce and Janet. Thanks to everyone who wrote in! Great questions tonight.

We're excited that Best Kept Secret is now available for free streaming online until October 7, 2013 on the POV website.

Visit the Best Kept Secret companion site to learn more about the film!

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