"Hollow," an interactive documentary about the people and issues of McDowell County, is the brainchild of West Virginia native Elaine McMillion and will launch Thursday, on West Virginia's 150th statehood celebration.
The online experience combines video portraits, user-generated content, data, grassroots mapping and soundscapes on an HTML5 site and an accompanying community tool to tell the story of those living in boom-and-bust areas.
Screenings will take place in McDowell County at 9 p.m. Saturday at the Martha H. Moore Riverfront Park in Welch, and 7 p.m. Sunday in at Big Creek People in Action in Caretta.
Additionally, residents are invited to share their stories and explore the site from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday at the McDowell Public Library's computer labs and from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday at Big Creek People in Action's labs.
"Hollow" team members will share a booth with West Virginia photographer and author Betty Rivard at the north side of the state Capitol all day on Saturday.
Starting Monday, Digiso will host a storytelling booth in Charleston allowing residents to share their stories from small towns in West Virginia.
McMillion and the team - made up of designers, programmers, journalists, filmmakers and community members - are thrilled to launch the project. The idea for the project came in 2009 when McMillion read "Hollowing Out The Middle" and learned more about youth exodus, brain drain and the many dying communities across America. Growing up in West Virginia, she was very familiar with many places that are often tagged as "ghost towns."
"I knew that although these places had lost their populations, there were still people committed to staying there with interesting stories to tell," McMillion said.
The hands-on approach for community members gave them the opportunity to get involved in the filmmaking process. Various locals, from ages 9 to 65, participated in capturing stories and their environments for "Hollow." Fifteen of those short community-shot films will accompany filmmaker documentaries featuring nearly 30 residents.
"The stories of West Virginia and Appalachia are so often controlled and told by outsiders. For many years we have been defined by that perspective, which often oversimplifies and stereotypes us," McMillion said. "I wanted to collaborate with the people of McDowell to collect stories and get a more authentic view of their day-to-day challenges and dreams for the future."
The project is supported by Tribeca Film Institute and the West Virginia Humanities Council. The community members and "Hollow" team strive to paint a more accurate and fair picture of a place that is often stereotyped and overlooked.
"We're like the backyard of the nation - Southern West Virginia," said Marsha Timpson, a participant of "Hollow" and executive director of Big Creek People in Action in Caretta. "Your front yard's for looks. You got your pretty flowers and your pretty bushes, and, you know, that's what you want people to see. You don't want them to see your backyard - because back there's where all the work gets done. So I don't really mind being the backyard. I do mind being ignored."
On Thursday, along with the launch of the online experience, The New York Times Op-Docs will feature "The Backyard," which features Timpson and other residents from McDowell County. And until launch, "Hollow" team members are urging Instagram users to share images that represent home for them with the hashtag #hollerhome. These images will populate a portion of the online experience.
On Thursday, the experience will be live at www.hollowdocumentary.com.