Film Finds Faith in Coal Country: Exclusive Clip

Josh Clevenger from the stunning "Hollow" Website.
Josh Clevenger from the stunning "Hollow" Website.

Josh Clevenger is tired of hearing bad news about his homeland. “Every time you turn on WVVA, the local news, they’re talking something bad happening in McDowell County,” he said, “There’s a drug problem in McDowell County. There’s this problem and that problem and this problem. You can tell the world about all of our problems, but that’s not going to solve any of them.”

McDowell is the poorest county in West Virginia. The average annual per capita income is just $13,345 and most of its citizens receive some form of government support. But that wasn’t always the case. McDowell was once thriving coal country. Up through the 1950s, it had bustling towns, buildings up to six stories high filled with offices and apartments, posh hotels, and more than 100,000 residents. Now about 20,000 people live there.

“It may not be what it was in it’s heyday,” Josh, a McDowell native and West Virginia University student, said, “But it’s going to be bigger than what it is now. It can only go up.”

As it turns out, a lot of other people share Josh’s faith. For just over a year, a documentary crew has been visiting McDowell, talking to local residents and leaving behind video cameras. They’ve encouraged people to capture their daily lives, their memories, and ideas for improving the place they call home.

You might remember a post from when this project, called Hollow, started. Well, what they’ve come up with is truly amazing. The documentary turned out to be a collection of nearly 30 breathtaking short films, shot largely by locals like Josh. Together, they show striving and struggling, longing and hope in one mountain community.

Hollow launches today. Every single clip in the documentary series can be found on a beautiful, interactive Website–all except one. Hollow’s director and West Virginia-native, Elaine McMillion is sharing one special piece of behind-the-scenes footage exclusively with readers of The Revivalist. Below you’ll find a little reminder that when times are tough, like they are in McDowell, you can still kick up your heels with a friend.

Take a look at this clip and the rest over on the Hollow site, and tell us — which is your favorite? And what do you think helps breath new life into boom-to-bust places like McDowell?

Also, you can catch up with Elaine and her crew this weekend. They’ll be touring West Virginia for a series of launch events:

Charleston, West Virginia, Saturday, June 22, 2013:

North Side of the Capitol (all day)

  • Booth during West Virginia’s 150th Birthday Celebration
  • Talk to the director, Elaine McMillion
  • Meet West Virginia photographer and author, Betty Rivard

Welch, West Virginia, Saturday, June 22, 2013: 

McDowell County Public Library (3 – 6 pm)

  • Access the website from three computer stations
  • Record a 3-minute memory or experience in our “story corner”
  • Submit your ideas for change and the future of McDowell
  • Bring in old photographs to scan and share with your story
  • Refreshments provided

Martha H. Moore Riverfront Park (7:30 – 9:00 pm)

  • Visit our story corner in the park to record a memory or experience
  • Submit your ideas for change and the future of McDowell
  • View aerial maps and art created by the youth of McDowell

Martha H. Moore Riverfront Park (9 – 11 pm)

  • Film screening and discussion
  • Popcorn and refreshments
  • See nearly 30 short films featured in the documentary
  • Get an interactive walkthrough of the site
  • Join the discussion about the future of McDowell

Caretta, West Virginia, Sunday, June 23, 2013:

Big Creek People in Action computer lab (3 – 6 pm)

  • Access the website from five computer stations
  • Record a 3-minute memory or experience in our “story corner”
  • Submit your ideas for change and the future of McDowell
  • Bring in old photographs to scan and share with your story
  • Refreshments provided

Big Creek People in Action gymnasium (6 – 7 pm)

  • Visit our story corner in the park to record a memory or experience
  • Submit your ideas for change and the future of McDowell
  • View aerial maps and art created by the youth of McDowell

Big Creek People in Action gymnasium (7 – 9 pm)

  • Film screening and discussion
  • Popcorn and refreshments
  • See nearly 30 short films featured in the documentary
  • Get an interactive walkthrough of the site
  • Join the discussion about the future of McDowell

Finally, the Hollow team will begin partnering with NPR and Digiso, a collaborative for digital artists, on June 24. The three groups will collect stories from people who grew up in small towns. Watch for their booth around West Virginia in the coming weeks.

1 comment

  • Kendra Bailey Morris

    My mother grew up in Welch and Anawalt, WV and my great grandfather was a mine foreman there in the 40′s. I can’t wait to see this film!

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