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HomeArticlesPhoenix Film Festival to show award-winning autism documentary spotlighting Arizona

Phoenix Film Festival to show award-winning autism documentary spotlighting Arizona

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone visits First Place-Phoenix to participate in a training session designed for positive interactions between first responders and people with autism and other neurodiversities. Photo courtesy of Good Eye! Media

“In A Different Key,” a documentary about autism and the struggle to belong, follows Caren Zucker as she tracks down the first person in the United States diagnosed with autism, as well as many other remarkable people on the spectrum, to see what promise their stories hold for her own autistic son Mickey. The film is showing Aug. 14-15 and 17 at the Phoenix Film Festival.

Zucker’s journey takes her to Phoenix multiple times to visit Mickey, who lives at First Place-Phoenix, an innovative residential community with supports and amenities for individuals with autism and other neurodiversities. The film is based on the 2017 Pulitzer Prize finalist book “In a Different Key: The Story of Autism,” by Zucker and fellow journalist and co-author John Donvan.

The film shows Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone visiting First Place-Phoenix during an autism training session designed for first responders to help them learn how to positively interact with neurodiverse individuals. Daniel Openden, president and CEO of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center in Phoenix, also shares a story of a child with autism who becomes best friends with a neurotypical boy he met through SARRC’s Community School.

Denise D. Resnik, founder, president & CEO of First Place AZ, co-founder of SARRC and mother of a 30-year-old man with autism who lives at First Place-Phoenix, says the film shows pioneering parents and leaders fueling a new wave of housing and community options for those with autism. “Through the power of our example, we are helping more people realize that an autism diagnosis need not stand in the way of friends, jobs, healthcare, post-secondary and lifelong education — and homes of their choice,” Resnik says.

“Because our film aims to show that community is all important for people on the spectrum, it’s wonderful that Phoenix has proven to be what John Donvan and I note is ‘the most autism-friendly city anywhere,’” Zucker says. “The stories we tell add up to a commonsense realization that autism is just one more wrinkle in the fabric of humanity — and that none of us gets through life unwrinkled.”

The documentary earned an Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary at the 2021 Sedona International Film Festival in June; the Jury Award for Best Documentary at the 2021 Oxford Film Festival in March and the Audience Prize for Best Documentary at the 2021 Sonoma International Film Festival in March.

First Place-Phoenix combines 55 apartments, the Transition Academy residential life skills program and the Global Leadership Institute to advance more independent and community-integrated living options. It also features a sports pool, culinary teaching kitchen, fitness and game rooms and common areas. For more information, visit or

Phoenix Film Festival takes place Aug. 12-22 at Harkins Scottsdale 101, 7000 E. Mayo Blvd. in Scottsdale. In its 21st year, the festival has grown from a three-day exhibition to an 11-day celebration featuring more than 300 films, filmmaking seminars, parties and student workshops. Learn more at



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