|Elaine McMillion Sheldon
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“It’s an evolving story. We are encouraging a discussion and not simply accepting the fate of these towns.”
Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Author, in Filmmaker Magazine
Interactive documentary Hollow investigates population decline in rural America through the lens of McDowell County, West Virginia. At the time of its release, McDowell County’s population numbered 22,000, down from a mid-century high of 100,000. Many young West Virginians—project director Elaine McMillion Sheldon included—left the state upon reaching adulthood in search of opportunities elsewhere, a phenomenon still happening across rural America. The Hollow team, a group of 10 that included designers, developers, data visualization artists, community organizers, and journalists, spent four months in McDowell County during the summer of 2012. There, they worked with locals to document the community’s story. During monthly workshops at a local high-school, residents collaborated with McMillion Sheldon to refine the project’s themes and identify their aspirations for McDowell county.
Hollow is an immersive HTML5 documentary that blends community-created video with footage shot by McMillion Sheldon. Thirty video portraits of McDowell county residents are distributed across five thematic sections tackling issues like health, community activism, and the influence of the coal industry. The project draws on dynamic data visualizations, but statistics are balanced with personal narratives to put a face on the numbers. To naturalize the project’s interactivity, the design team made extensive use of a parallax scrolling technique that gives the story an uninterrupted flow.
The initial funding for Hollow came from crowdfunding. A Kickstarter campaign raised $28,000, and grants from the Tribeca Film Institute’s New Media Fund and the West Virginia Humanities Council rounded out the budget.