The "Hollow” - Elaine McMillion documents W.V.'s story

Documenting the

WYTHE COUNTY, VA. Aug.11, 2012 – Continuing my coverage of “Hollow; an Interactive Documentary,” I recently made the trip to Welch, in McDowell County, W.Va.

Concerned with the erroneous perceptions of a largely forgotten region, Elaine McMillion, the film’s creator, decided to document the results of an economy based on the boom and bust of mining coal in West Virginia. 

McMillion’s documentary “Hollow” is a hybrid community participatory project and interactive documentary where content is created for the community, by the community.

Hollow is based in McDowell County West Virginia where, during the boom of the 1950’s McDowell County, they more coal than any other county in the nation. There was a thriving local economy supporting a population of 100,000 people. As resources were depleted and jobs disappeared, so did the population.

Main Street, in Welch, West Virginia, during boom days

Main Street, in Welch, West Virginia, during boom days

Today only 22,000 people live in McDowell County.

Unwilling to watch the town slowly fade away, McMillion took it upon herself to capture the stories, and the energy of the storytellers in order to better understand and hopefully prevent the gradual demise of the many small coal towns.

McMillion sees the fate of these small West Virginia towns as a symptom of a much larger national problem: the disappearance of small town life throughout the country.

By pooling funds and resources, along with a lot of hard work, she hopes to provide tools to help the people to create a working template to revitalize their communities.

The documentary team has spent this summer in McDowell County facilitating the community in documenting the history of the county in a way that anyone, no matter where they are from, can relate to.

Armed with camcorders provided by the documentary team, members of the community will take part in the filmmaking process by creating 20 of the 50 short documentaries in efforts to build engagement and social trust and empower the community to work together for a better future.

On the day I visited, the documentary makers were holding a story telling seminar to better enable the community participants to reflect on their lives in a way that would convey their experiences in McDowell County through its many ups and downs.

Although technically strangers, a kindred bond with my fellow mountain people quickly established. The more I talked to the community participants, the more I realized they were no different than anyone else. They all tenaciously hold on to their heritage, and are willing to work hard to make sure it does not fade away.

Present was a wonderful mix of all ethnicities, including Irish, Italian, Indian, German, and African American that reflected the impressive array of people that came to McDowell County in the past seeking their fortunes.

From ages 13 to 80, the participants all gathered in hopes of learning how they could convey their pride in their community and how to tell that in a format that would be available for all to enjoy.

The storytelling seminar was to help participants focus on possible topics for their individual stories, but as I looked into their eyes and felt their kindness envelop me, I had no doubt their stories would be genuine and from the heart. My only concern is if the camera will adequately capture the depth of the character of the people behind the stories.

The more I talked to the people the more I realized they were all community minded, each holding at least one position in their community, if not more, that was directly responsible for insuring and bettering the welfare of the rest of the community.

Participants were from law enforcement, health care, teaching, county government, and the local food bank, just to name a few. More importantly, they shared a real enthusiasm for the project that was obvious in their words and actions.

As work on “Hollow” continues, I am left with this thought; they say one person can change the world. If this is true, we definitely have not heard the last of McDowell County West Virginia, because I recently met a room full of earth shakers there.

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Lisa King

I was born and educated in Southwest Virginia, traveled with my job all over America in my twenties and early thirties then came back to the mountains to raise my daughter.

I’ve been employed as everything from a quality control technician in industrial construction, to a mail processing plant manager, to postmaster of a small town. I’ve been to forty nine of the fifty states, as well as many other countries. Traveling will always be a passion I indulge, and something I’ll call upon often in my writing. 

I come from a long line of story tellers, and will shamelessly exploit a family tree resplendent with colorful and unique characters, both past and present.

In short my perspective will reflect the pride and familiarity I have of my Appalachian heritage. My stories will be a reflection of the values I believe we hold dearest here, all embellished with a healthy dose of Southern Appalachian flare.


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