WVU grad set to reveal, redefine W.Va.
Published: Friday, April 27, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 30, 2012 17:04
When Elaine McMillion sees McDowell County she sees beyond a hollow and broken community – she sees potential to empower and redefine rural America.
McMillion, a southern West Virginia native and West Virginia University alumna, along with five other native alumni, will live and work in McDowell County this summer and produce the interactive documentary "Hollow."
"‘Hollow’ will be an interactive, nonlinear documentary that will explore the issues of the people of McDowell County. The main issues they are currently experiencing are population loss and unemployment," McMillion said. "These issues will be faced, and these stories will be told through the eyes of the people that live there."
Community members will take part in the filmmaking process by learning how to create their own documentaries and balloon maps to tell their personal stories.
In 1950, when the coal market was booming, McDowell County was named "the nation’s coal bin" and home to nearly 100,000 people. Today, only 22,000 remain.
According to demographers, the 10 communities that make up McDowell County are just years away from extinction, McMillion said.
"When industry abandons the people who made it great, it leaves behind a lot more questions than answers," McMillion said. "The population loss is just too severe in my opinion. It’s a personal issue for all of us, and we want to do what we can to help the future generations."
"Hollow" will also aim to empower and give voice to those who in the past have had none, she said.
"A lot of people are curious as to why we chose McDowell County. It can’t seem to catch a break. If they’re not the third unhealthiest in the state, they’re the highest for overdose rates. This is a place to defy stereotypes and engage in joining together on these serious issues," she said. "This is a chance to empower citizens and let them know that they can tell their own stories."
With all of the hardship this area has endured, McMillion said she hopes "Hollow" will spark communication and trust within the local community – and ultimately the nation.
"The problems in McDowell County are far too severe, but we hope it starts to spark dialogue. We think that communication builds trust, and the more neighbors talk to each other, the better sense of community it builds," she said. "The social fabric has been ripped there. We want to get the community to start talking together again, then take their ideas and use them to empower those in other places."
In order to cover costs for production, workshops, travel, living and equipment for the summer, the team must raise $25,000.
The team will begin filming "Hollow" in May, and the film is projected to go live in 2013.
"I believe change comes from the ground up, so we’re excited to get started," McMillion said.
To learn more about the project or to make a donation, visit www.hollowthefilm.com.