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Film Explores Social Challenges of Teens on Autism Spectrum

HBO's Nancy Abraham '87, director Alexandra Shiva '95 and executive producer Jason Blum '91 at the movie's premiere at Sundance.

Most teenagers face their first dance with a mixture of excitement and fear, but for those on the autism spectrum, the prospect can be downright terrifying!

The new HBO film How to Dance in Ohio, directed and produced by Alexandra Shiva ’95, follows a group of young Columbus, Ohio, residents with a variety of developmental challenges as they prepare for their first spring formal. A psychologist encourages them to confront their fear and social anxieties over 12 weeks of group therapy, helping them to overcome their trepidation.

It turns out that the film has quite a few Vassar connections. On April 20, the filmmaker—founder of Gidalya Pictures, a Manhattan-based documentary production company—discussed the film with an audience of Vassar alumnae/i at the Harvard Club of New York City. Joining her was HBO’s senior vice president of documentary programming, Nancy Abraham ’87, and the film’s executive producer, Jason Blum ’91 of Blumhouse Productions. Mia Mask, associate professor of film at Vassar, moderated the discussion.

The film has received critical acclaim. The New York Times has noted, “How to Dance in Ohio, a piercing documentary, might from its pocket description seem to be a variation on this evening-news staple. … But Alexandra Shiva, the filmmaker, goes so much deeper than the corsage-and-boutonnière…” 

The film premiered in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and was picked up by HBO, which began broadcasting the documentary in early April.

Watch a trailer of the film above and learn more about the making of the documentary here.

—Elizabeth Randolph

-Photo: Robin Marchant/Getty Images for Sundance

Posted by Office of Communications Tuesday, May 3, 2016