HBO’s ‘How to Dance in Ohio’ Premiere Warms Hearts on Cold Night

Just about everybody wanted a hug from filmmaker Alexandra Shiva as they left the screening room Monday night after HBO’s premiere of the documentary “How to Dance in Ohio.”

The story of a group of youths on the autism spectrum who attend a special spring formal dance in Columbus, Ohio, warmed the hearts of many who turned out at the Time Warner Center on a chilly night in New York City.

The docu chronicles the coaching and preparations that the teenagers and twentysomethings undergo for months leading up to the dance organized by psychologist Emilio Amigo. A deeper look at the stories of three young women trying to gain more independence adds context to the triumphs and challenges they experience just getting to the dance floor.

“I hope everyone feels like they’re walking with them into that dance,” Shiva said of her film. Shiva was inspired to study the transition to adulthood for autistic youth by her relationship with a close friend who has a daughter on the spectrum.

“I was really curious about what coming of age looked like for (autistic) youth,” Shiva said. She looked around for various ways to tell the story and found Dr. Amigo’s program in Columbus.

“I’ve always been attracted to stories of people who are searching for a sense of belonging,” Shiva said. “I love stories of human resilience.”

“How to Dance” was shot over three months in 2013. The depth of access and sensitivity Shiva demonstrated toward her subjects is evident on screen. It was that quality that attracted Jason Blum, best known for a decidedly different kind of filmmaking, to sign on to “How to Dance” as an executive producer simply to help get the movie a bigger platform.

“I looked at an early cut and found it life-affirming,” Blum said.

Among those who were on hand to celebrate Shiva’s latest work were Allison Williams, Naomi Watts, Barry Diller, Sandra Bernhard, Andy Cohen, Paul Rudd, Josh Charles, Amanda Peet, Paul Dano, Mark Consuelos and HBO Documentary chief Sheila Nevins.

(Pictured: Jason Blum, Alexandra Shiva and Allison Williams at the premiere of “How to Dance in Ohio”)

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