The second half of my US Documentary Competition profiles begins with Alexandra Shiva’s HOW TO DANCE IN OHIO, which follows young people on the autism spectrum as they prepare for a Spring formal.
Sundance Program Description:
Making friends, working with others, and generally having a meaningful social life can be hard for anyone. For the half a million young people on the autism spectrum who will be entering the adult world over the next 10 years, these everyday challenges are sources of intense anxiety and fear.
In Columbus, Ohio, a group of autistic teenagers and young adults role-play this transition by going through the deceptively complex social interactions of preparing for a spring formal. Focusing on several young women as they go through an iconic American rite of passage, we are given intimate access to people who are often unable to share their experiences with others. With humor and heartbreak, HOW TO DANCE IN OHIO shows the daily courage of people facing their fears and opening themselves to the pain, worry, and joy of the social world.
Alexandra Shiva has previously produced and directed two documentary features, STAGEDOOR, about teenagers attending a theatre camp; and BOMBAY EUNUCH, which explored the lives of India’s hijra community. Producer Bari Pearlman has been to Park City before, having produced Slamdance doc SMILE ‘TIL IT HURTS: THE UP WITH PEOPLE STORY. The film’s executive producer, Jason Blum, produced last year’s US Dramatic Grand Jury prize and audience award winner WHIPLASH, as well as the popular PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and INSIDIOUS franchises, among others, and also executive produced the HBO series THE JINX: THE LIFE AND DEATHS OF ROBERT DURST, whose first episode will screen at the 2015 festival. Editor Toby Shimin previously edited audience award winner BUCK (2011) among her other Sundance credits.
Why You Should Watch:
Taking a largely observational approach that positions the audience alongside her protagonists, Shiva engenders a natural empathy that breaks down barriers of understanding, allowing neurotypical viewers to experience the young women’s struggles and to recognize their triumphs as they navigate all the steps leading to the dance, from asking someone to the formal and picking out a dress to working out what – and how – to talk about with their dates.
For more information, check out the film’s Facebook page and website, which also includes a mailing list sign-up. For Shiva’s thoughts on the film, check out her Sundance Meet the Artists profile and her Indiewire filmmaker interview. For screening dates and times at Sundance, click the link in the first paragraph.
To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance filmmaker class of 2015 Twitter list.