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Reflections from the ‘Hollow’

ONE recent day, when I had a little free time, I drove over to Riverside High School to see my friend Elaine McMillion lead a presentation of her film project, "Hollow: An Interactive Documentary."

I have known Elaine a long time now. She was twice a reporting intern for the Daily Mail, including an extended internship after she graduated from WVU in 2009.

We would have been delighted to keep her, but Elaine was destined to leave. She went to Emerson University in Boston to study documentary filmmaking, and "Hollow" was the result.

Maybe you have read about "Hollow" already. The name has two meanings. It refers to the valley between two mountains — and to the empty space that's left when something that was there isn't any more.

"Hollow" is the story of McDowell County, told by its residents, about what was there and what is and isn't there now.

One of Elaine's great gifts has always been her ability to relate to people and to elicit their trust. She appreciates what's interesting about people, and that comes out in the stories in "Hollow."

The stories McDowell County residents tell in "Hollow" are of loss and hope.

There is sorrow over lost population and lost opportunities.

But there's also a love of community and love of the land.

These are stories of people who have stayed — despite the dismal economy, despite the drug problems, despite the departures of their friends and families.

They cling to their community, try to make the best of what remains and hope for better days.

Accompanying Elaine to her presentations of "Hollow" at Kanawha County libraries was Alan Johnston, a musician, photographer and lifelong McDowell County resident.

He said something of Welch that was echoed by almost everybody featured in the project.

"It's almost like a ghost town. That doesn't make me love it any less," Johnston said. "My heart is in McDowell County."

Many West Virginians — even those who have left — feel that way about their home.

Unless you are from a growing area like the Eastern Panhandle, or Putnam County, or maybe Morgantown, there is a good chance your community isn't what it used to be.

The viewing of "Hollow" that I attended included a class of seniors at Riverside. At one point, Elaine asked how many plan to stay in West Virginia.

With students, it's hard to tell if they're being shy or quietly thinking over what you've said. Anyway, only a few cautiously raised their hands. One boy offered that he would probably end up working in the coal mines.

Elaine provided her own point of view: "I left, and now I'm trying to figure out how to make it back."

If you are interested in the story of West Virginians, told by themselves, you don't have to go anywhere besides a computer in your own home.

Just install Google Chrome —the web browser that works best with the way "Hollow" was set up — and go to http://hollowdocumentary.com/

Once you're there, you scroll through multi-layered pictures. As the images move, hotspots appear with links to videos and other features.

There are 30 stories that can be watched in any order, all according to your own preference.

If you watch, you might recognize the reflection of your own home, your own people, your own life.

Brad McElhinny is the editor and publisher of the Charleston Daily Mail. He is available at 304-348-5124 or bradmc@dailymail.com.

Follow him on Twitter @BradMcElhinny or visit his newsroom blog at http://blogs.

dailymail.com/editorsdesk/.


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