HBO’s Sheila Nevins discusses how she conquered the world of documentary film

As the president of HBO Documentary Films, Sheila Nevins has always been interested in one person stories.

“When you look at the great documentaries, they focus on one person. It’s one person’s struggle and you say ‘hey, you know, I’m not so different from that person,’” Nevins said.

On an episode of ABC Radio’s “No Limits with Rebecca Jarvis,” Nevins opens up about her career and the steps she took that led her to become a veteran documentarian. During her tenure at HBO, the network’s documentaries have won 26 Academy Awards, while Nevins herself has earned 34 News and Documentary Emmys, and 42 George Foster Peabody Awards among others.

From the Oscar-winning documentary “Citizenfour” to “Going Clear: Scientology & the Prison of Belief” and “Cobain: Montage of Heck,” the films she’s brought to the network have received widespread acclaim.

Reflecting on the different projects that she’s overseen at HBO, the Barnard and Yale University graduate told Jarvis that she attributes her success to her background in theater and directing.

“I think if I’ve made any contribution at all, I think it’s oddly because of my theater background. I think we cast our documentaries the way you would cast narrative,” she said. “So that, if I’m going to tell the story about the minimum wage, I’m not going to just pick a person. I’m going to pick someone who I think has the charisma and the dramatic appeal to tell the story in a way that will evoke empathy and reactions from people who may be on the other side.”

Nevins’ belief in the power of one person’s story prompted her to begin recounting her own story in her recently released book, “You Don’t Look Your Age…and Other Fairy Tales.” The New York Times bestseller is a compilation of essays and poems that draw from the memorable moments of Nevins’ life. In one chapter entitled “From Cosmo to Ms.,” Nevins remembers the fraught beginnings of her…

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