Some things are just better understood once they're seen.
That's the case with "Hollow" - an interactive documentary available starting today - and the story it tells, explained filmmaker Elaine McMillion.
"I think that for most people who have never seen an interactive documentary, this will be brand new to them," McMillion said.
She originally hoped to release the film in May, but the small team quickly realized the project would take more time to complete. As it considered other release dates, the team decided to launch the documentary on West Virginia's birthday.
In the course of four years - McMillion said she came up with the idea in 2009 but started filming in 2011 - the Hollow team compiled hundreds of hours of film. McMillion, who has been in McDowell County for the last month, said the team has been working on the film until the last minute.
They whittled their footage to nearly 30 short documentaries, with about 13 videos coming from community members who used cameras provided by the team. The total project runs about 90 minutes, McMillion said. But viewers can experience the film in much shorter segments if they want.
Viewers choose which short videos to watch on the project's website. There are also "game elements" that reward viewers for correct responses by giving them access to extra photographs that can be used as computer desktop wallpaper.
"You don't just press a button and sit back and watch it," McMillion said.
Broken into six parts, the project focuses on every aspect of McDowell County. The once-booming coal community has suffered significantly in recent decades. It population has dwindled, and officials combat poverty and drug abuse.
Viewers first meet and learn about four characters in a sequence about health, family and education. The next sequence uses other characters to discuss infrastructure and religion, McMillion said.
A section called "When Coal was King" delves into the history of the mine industry and the role it continues to play in McDowell County. The film wraps up with a sequence about people who run businesses and ideas for the future.
"I think it will be something new for the audience; I think it will be educational," McMillion said.
As an online interactive film, "Hollow" offers viewers the ability to follow up on characters. While many documentaries provide a brief "where are they now" segment at the end, McMillion said viewers can subscribe to people in the film. The people will provide updates about themselves and the community using the film website, she said.
McMillion is a native of southern West Virginia, but she didn't want to tell the story alone. She wanted the people who know the county the best - McDowell residents - to share their views on their home.
That has presented some challenges, but McMillion said it also has made the project more fulfilling.
First, she said she needed to earn the trust of local residents. They eventually welcomed her, but it took a little while.
"People are always skeptical about anything that's about West Virginia or Appalachia because it's so typically stereotypical," McMillion said.