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In a Different Key

A film by Caren Zucker and John Donvan

Winter 2019/2020. We have great news to share! With your help, we have our reached $1.15 million fundraising target, which gives us what we need to get the film to its “rough cut” stage. We are enormously grateful to every one of you for helping us get that far. We were also stunned when jazz legend Wynton Marsalis, who has an autistic brother, agreed to write and perform the music for the movie.  We recorded with him in October. It was one of the most exciting days of this project so far. We are delighted to be getting interest from potential distributors like Apple, CNN Films, and a major station in the PBS system. As we move forward, we’re back to fundraising. The process of getting the film out to the world — costs for promotion, social media etc — will require another $250,000. So your continued generosity will, of course, be hugely appreciated.

Producers: Caren Zucker and John Donvan

Emmy-winning journalists Caren Zucker and John Donvan bring to documentary film the set of stories that made a bestseller of their acclaimed book, In A Different Key, The Story of Autism. A 2017 Pulitzer Prize finalist, this narrative account of an unheralded civil rights movement was called “cinematic” by the Washington Post, and described by the New York Times “as if…filmed with a handheld camera.” This project aims to make its visual storytelling truly visual, by putting autism’s stunning and turbulent history on screen for the first time.

We believe a story well-told has the power to change minds and open hearts. That is the material impact we aim for with In a Different Key, the first-ever full-length documentary to travel the timeline of society’s tense and sometimes misguided response to people on the autism spectrum. It is our conviction, as journalists with personal connections to autism, that such a film can bring communities everywhere to greater understanding of the challenges faced by some of their most vulnerable members, and often their families as well, up to the present day. Recognizing that many viewers may still be unsure what autism represents, or how to interact with autistic people, the film will engage that audience’s empathy and its intellect with an unflinching historical account of the neglect, abuse and misunderstanding that were once so common, while also pointing to the many challenges that remain today. Including significant first-person contributions from contemporary autistic individuals, who today number an estimated 3 million Americans, In a Different Key will also highlight communities that figured out how to do it right, realizing ways to surround those who are “different” with authentic acceptance, inclusion and the thing we all prize: friendship. A central theme of In a Different Key is it not that hard, after all, to have someone else’s back, whether in neighborhoods, workplaces or classrooms. And that when we figure that out, everyone will be better for it.

There is a special urgency is getting this film made now, as we risk losing the voices of activists who began their work 40, 50 and 60 years ago. At the same time, we have been fortunate to have spent time with our friend, Donald Triplett – the first child diagnosed with autism. Now in his 80s, he appears in the trailer above, and will have significant presence in the finished film, along with his community, which is one of those that got it “right.”

The film is being produced in conjunction with BraveDog Productions, by four-time Emmy award-winning Editor and Producer Ray Conley.


Associated Members

Caren Zucker, Independent Filmmaker


John Donvan, Independent Filmmaker