Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

June 23, 2013

McDowell County and the rest of the world logging on to ‘Hollow’

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

WELCH — The McDowell County story has always had heart, but now it’s getting legs thanks to the effort of a creative documentary filmmaker who jumped head-first into the community and emerged with a compelling interactive documentary and community participation project that does more than tell a story. It tells about a way of life.

“It’s not me. I’m just a film editor,” Elaine McMillion said. “It’s the people here. They tell their stories and they tell their stories with heart. I think West Virginians are natural story-tellers. When someone starts telling you a story, they’ll tell nine stories before their through.”

McMillion, 25, a Logan County native who is now living in Boston, said she started mentally assembling the concept of “Hollow,” in 2009 “when I moved away from the state,” she said. “When I started on the project, there was so much skepticism. Since we launched this week, the comments on the New York Times site have been positive. People seem to think this project highlights the beauty that is here, and there is a lot of that.

“People from as far away as Russia have commented on the project,” McMillion said. “After it was on line for just a few hours, it already had 11,000 hits on the web site. The average visitor spends 14 minutes on the web site. That’s a lot of time in the Internet.”

McMillion and several members of her “Hollow” team were at the McDowell County Public Library in Welch Saturday afternoon helping people learn how to access the web site on the computers in the library. Several people — not a huge crowd, but more than on a typical Saturday afternoon — came to watch the sample video, and to share additional stories.

“I’ll never disconnect from this community,” McMillion said. “I love these people. They’ve adopted me as one of their own. I have many friends here.”

McMillion showed Christine and Ellis Ray Williams a little more than the introductory glimpse into the project. Ray Williams was one of the individuals that McMillion interviewed for the project, so she showed him his entire interview that included photos of growing up in Gary.

“We didn’t lose the coal,” Williams observed in his interview. “We lost the method of getting the coal out.”

“You’re a great orator, Ellis,” McMillion said.

“Finally, this is a project by a West Virginian ... Someone who understands us, and not by a know-it-all outsider,” U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall D-W.Va., said as he watched the Williams interview.

McMillion skipped around to show Christine and Ellis Ray Williams some other clips because they were not going to be able to catch the entire show at the Martha H. Moore Riverfront Park in Welch later Saturday night. McMillion showed a “fun” banjo story featuring a Bluegrass music performance by Rita “Nessie” Hunt and the Blue Rockin’ Grass Band, an emotional comeback story by Markella Gianato of how the floods of 2001 and ‘02 helped motivate her to open the Ya’sou Restaurant in Kimball.

McMillion also showed a message of hope from Josh Clevinger, the Riverview High School mascot who is a budding filmmaker in his own right who will attend West Virginia University in the fall to study the creative arts. Clevinger said he doesn’t like all the bad news stories that the media tells about his home.

“You can tell the world about all of our problems, but that’s not going to fix any of them,” he said.

McMillion also showed a playful “observational” segment, in which a volunteer from the community who wore a camera on her head and filmed the 2012 McDowell County Fair, including a ride on a Tilt-A-Whirl. All of the video in the segments McMillion showed Saturday afternoon were of exceptional quality.

“This is sort of a final part of one phase of the project and now it gets handed off to the community and say: ‘Now, what will you do with it?’” she said. “This is really about the future of this place.”

The “Hollow” crew will be at the Big Creek People in Action labs in Caretta today from 3 to 6 p.m., and showing the entire film at 7 p.m., tonight, also at Big Creek People in Action.

View “Hollow” online at

— Contact Bill Archer at