By Don Simpson | September 7, 2013
Director: Samantha Buck
I find Newark, New Jersey to be one of the scariest and ugliest cities in the United States, but Samantha Buck’s documentary Best Kept Secret reveals a side of the economically ravaged city that very few people even know about. John F. Kennedy High School is Newark’s best kept secret. A public school located in the 10th poorest city in the U.S., JFK High School provides a loving and attentive educational environment for students with special needs, specifically those spanning the spectrum of autism.
Best Kept Secret focuses specifically on Janet Mino, a teacher at JFK High School who is about to see her class of autistic men graduate in the spring of 2012. Mino knows that once the students leave JFK High School, they will no longer receive the same kind of care that she is able to provide for them. As the students creep closer to the proverbial cliff of the public school system, Mino takes it upon herself to map out their next steps. The end goal is for these young men to survive as independently as possible in the adult world, but the severity of their autism will make that practically unattainable. They require love, attention and patience, but as Mino quickly discovers, few facilities that employ or care for adult autistics actually know how to work with the disorder.
Buck’s camera (Nara Garber) sticks with Mino on her solitary journey that reveals a disheartening and aggravating situation. Our world is perfectly content pretending that the autistic community does not exist, except for a few facilities that seem content to do the bare minimum in order to collect their government funding. This documentary is as enlightening as its subject matter is infuriating, but luckily Mino is usually present with a perpetually glowing smile on her face. From what we see during Best Kept Secret, Mino approaches her career with a saint-like selflessness, dedicating every waking hour of the documentary to her students. There is no denying that she loves them, wholeheartedly and unconditionally. This world needs a whole lot more people just like her.