Paul Bernon and Sean Curran helped produce Best Kept Secret, a documentary with personal resonances.
Late in 2011, Paul Bernon was browsing the Kickstarter website when he spotted a trailer for a not-quite-completed documentary film, Best Kept Secret. The film was about Newark, New Jersey, teacher Janet Mino’s quest to transition her severely autistic students from the relative security of school into the real world. These were mostly African-American kids from one of the poorest areas in the country, in a state that has an extremely high autism rate. They could learn and develop in school, but once they graduated or “aged out” of the state-supported system, they had few options to make a life for themselves.
Bernon, who has a younger brother with a genetic disorder called Williams syndrome, admired Mino’s work and felt deeply for the students in her documentary, who were not so different from his own brother. Unfortunately, the film’s original producers had tapped out their funds before completing the project. Best Kept Secret’s original team was “70 percent done with shooting, and they needed money to finish,” says Bernon, “as well as paying for post-production costs and for marketing and editing.” He wanted to help, and he had the know-how to make a difference. A principal at Rubicon Real Estate of Wellesley, he has a film and television degree from Boston University, and last year he cofounded a film company, Burn Later Productions.
Bernon recruited a longtime friend from the Boston area to help them out: Sean Curran, the CEO of Waterville Consulting, who has an older sister afflicted with Down syndrome. (Jason Weissman, another film devotee who is founder and principal of Boston Realty Advisors, also helped.) “Without us raising money and awareness, they would not have been able to continue,” Bernon says.
Curran felt similarly, and, like Bernon, had experienced both the heartbreak and the fierce love of having a disabled sibling. Regarding the rise of autism, he says, “The problem is getting bigger, not smaller. I hope the audience leaves the film realizing we have a collective responsibility to develop opportunities for young adults with autism when they leave the safe harbor of the school system.”
The two hope Best Kept Secret will spur viewers to action. “Not to spoil it,” says Bernon, “but it’s the type of film you walk away from feeling like you need to do more. You’re not thinking that all these adults find a great place to go post-schooling, because that’s just not the case. It’s almost a call for action to better help people in low-income areas who have children with developmental disabilities.” Adds Curran, “We would have loved a story that ended with all the subjects enjoying fruitful and contributing lives, because you can’t help but fall in love with each of them. The fact is, that just isn’t happening in underresourced communities.”
Local viewers have already fallen in love with the film. Best Kept Secret premiered at the Independent Film Festival Boston in April and won the Audience Award for Documentary Film. It will air on PBS stations September 23, so the rest of the world can fall in love with it, too.