Alexandra Shiva’s How to Dance in Ohio at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival

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Taking home the Audience Award at this year’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival was Alexandra Shiva’s How to Dance in Ohio. Since premiering at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, How to Dance in Ohio has generated a great deal of indie buzz, even securing a run on HBO in the coming fall.


Shiva has enjoyed festival circuit acclaim in the past with 2001’s Bombay Eunuch and 2006’s Stagedoor, but she was nonetheless bowled over by her latest recognition from Full Frame. “It’s incredible,” she said after winning the award. “I’m so happy, and the audience was amazing, and it was wonderful to be in Fletcher Hall in Durham, and we are so, so thrilled, and very excited that everyone’s going to get to see it on HBO in the fall.”


Making the film, which has a community of autistic teenagers and adults at its center, was a deeply personal affair for Shiva. The idea was born of her own connection to a young person with autism, an experience she shared with us during our interview after she’d accepted the Audience Award.


Documentarian Alexandra Shiva Shares How She Learned to Dance in Ohio


“I have a very close friend who has a daughter on the autism spectrum, who is now 16, and I was very, very curious about what was going to happen to her as she got older, and where she was going to belong, and what ‘coming of age’ looked like for her,” said Shiva. “I really wanted to find a way to tell that in a relatable way.” 


Shiva encountered a doctor specializing in autism spectrum group therapy in Columbus, OH, and was given permission to film their sessions. But that proved unsettling for many of the patients-turned-film stars.


“We went through a whole process where we were very careful in the beginning,” Shiva explained. “The doctor made sure that everyone was comfortable with the idea of being on camera, and whoever wasn’t, it was clear that we weren’t filming them. And then when we arrived, we had a town hall meeting.”


That early experience helped prepared Shiva for interacting with her subjects throughout the filming process. That evening, “they would come in, four or five clients at a time, and just ask us questions, touch the camera, touch the boom, try to understand, you know, ‘Where are you going to be in our space?’”


The overall production experience was amazing after clearing those first hurdles, and Shiva has chosen to continue focusing on the autistic community for her next project. 

“I’m working on a portrait of an incredible woman that I actually met during the [filming] process. Hopefully that will be done soon,” she said.


We, and the festival circuit, hope so too! With Shiva’s track record, whatever shape that film takes will be one that inspires audiences and connects us with points of view previously out of our grasp.

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