The interactive documentary, "Hollow," that was launched June 20, 2013 , examines the future of rural America through the eyes and voices of those living in McDowell County, West Virginia. Portions of the story were shared with approximately 200 people on Tuesday evening in the Capitol auditorium.
Hosted by Sen. Joe Manchin, the event brought project director Elaine McMillion Sheldon and her production team together with several McDowell County residents who participated in the original filming of the project begun two years ago.
McDowell County, an example of a "boom and bust" community found across the country, was once the most populated, wealthiest county in West Virginia. Topping out at a population of 100,000 in the 1950s, McDowell now is home to slightly over 22,000.
"Hollow" focuses on the residents who continue to call McDowell County home; those who have pride in their community; a love for their county and state; and a desire to improve the future.
Challenges facing McDowell include a high drug use rate as well as few economic opportunities. Young people from the area tend to leave to find work, lowering even further the population base.
According to the "Hollow" website, the story told is one of hope and home that strives not only to address issues through storytelling, it also encourages change and growth through new media.
Several of the faces seen in the documentary were found in the audience Tuesday. More than 30 individuals traveled from McDowell County to participate in the showing as well as a discussion after regarding what can possibly be done to aid the county.
County Commissioner of McDowell County Harold McBride traveled to Washington to share in the discussion.
"We have some issues but we are working to make it better," McBride said. "We might need some help with tools for infrastructure but our number one asset is the people."
Alan Johnston, a musician and photographer in McDowell, stood and spoke with pride, "I love 'Mac-Dowell' County. If I had a choice of where to be born again, it would be McDowell County."
Johnston is working to document McDowell in photographs. His work can be viewed on the interactive website for "Hollow" at www.hollowdocumentary.com.
"I don't believe it will ever be like it was when coal was king," Johnston told those gathered Tuesday. "At least not in my lifetime. But my home is right here."
Ed Shepherd, a lifelong resident of Welsh, the county seat, had a booming business at his '76 Station during the prominent coal era. That era came and went in Welsh, leaving little behind to replace it.
"We are surrounded with coal mines," Shepherd said during his portion of the film. "There is no other industry, no other jobs."
He explained, "We were the top richest county in West Virginia at one time. I don't think it will ever be that way again."
Over four hours of content can be viewed on the interactive website. Director Elaine Sheldon shared, "The project took over two years of our lives." She explained that all 10 of the incorporated towns in McDowell are losing population. While social issues exist and McDowell is often portrayed in a negative light, "Hollow" helps to shed truth without condemnation.
Tim Crofton, with Tug River Medical Center in McDowell, traveled to see the showing in Washington and participate in the discussion that followed.
"I came not only to see the documentary," he said, "but I hope to come up with some ideas to help. There is a lot to do there."
Sen. Manchin voiced his recommendations on helping to deal with the drug problems, sharing that the federal government is working to curtail some of the over-prescribed drugs such as oxycontin,
Sandy McDonald, council member from Charles Town, headed to Washington to see the documentary. One of the only attendees from Jefferson County, McDonald said she was disappointed that more local individuals didn't come to learn about another part of the state.
"We live right here and can easily come learn from this experience. These people traveled a long way from McDowell to hopefully gain some suggestions on dealing with the problems in their home area. It's too bad more people from a more affluent community couldn't come out to learn about them."
Reba Honake, mayor of Welsh, told everyone in attendance Tuesday, "We are not here looking for a handout. We just need some guidance." She went on to say that the people of Welsh and McDowell County are no different from anyone else.
"Our best feature is our people," she said. That feature can be seen vividly in the "Hollow" documentary, one Honake said was very well done.