Hollow is an interactive documentary and community participatory project that examines the future of rural America through the eyes and voices of those living in McDowell County, W.Va. Hollow combines video portraits, data visualizations, photography, soundscapes, community-generated content and grassroots mapping to bring these stories to life through an online experience.


Hollow is an interactive documentary that merges cinematic techniques with web-based storytelling to encourage a dialogue about the issues that small-town America faces. The project examines the lives of 30 individuals living in McDowell County, W.Va., an area that is representative of many boom-and-bust areas across the country. McDowell County has lost almost 80 percent of its population since 1950 and continues to lose more young people every year due to a lack of economic opportunity. This rural brain drain has left many counties across the nation with an aging demographic and failing infrastructure. However, many people—approximately 22,000—continue to live and work in McDowell. They feel a great sense of pride and belonging and believe they are there to help improve and move the county into the future.

Focusing on the residents who have stayed during the tumultuous times, Hollow is a story of hope and home and strives to not only address the issues through storytelling but help provide potential solutions. Using HTML5 technology to merge cinematic and emotional storytelling with the web, the stories of residents have been brought to life for the outside world to understand the often overlooked sector of our society. The interactive documentary provides a “lean forward” and “lean back” experience and encourages each user to not only consume media but also be an active participate and contribute to the narrative.

While Hollow is a storytelling project at its core, the team also strives to encourage change and growth through new media. Using a WordPress blogging tool that feeds into the main experience, residents will continue to update their stories and initiatives to keep users updated and potentially encourage them to get involved.


What are people saying?

LA Times: 

Appalachia stories are often oversimplified and stereotypical. The simple statistics of drug abuse, obesity and other problems often create a narrow, impersonal picture. McMillion encountered too many stories of hope and pride to craft such a bleak “black and white” picture. She wanted to challenge preconceptions and create a more authentic view that included the day-to-day human stories of McDowell County.

Filmmaker Elaine McMillion’s project “Hollow: An Interactive Documentary” bridges that gap between the storyteller and the audience. The project is practically a living, breathing thing; viewers can subscribe for updates on individual people. Such connections create insight and understanding.

Huffington Post:

Anyone who saw promise for the future of web-based journalism after watching/reading The New York Times’ highly innovative “Snowfall,” will positively be drawn to the work produced at “Hollow.” It is next level.

Maybe the most magnificently presented, web-aware journalism I’ve ever seen. But more important than the visual achievement is what it does — documenting the lives of people who live in a mostly ignored rural community, far from the traditional media bastions and bubbles.



Filmmaker Magazine Film Series: 25 Faces of Independent Film – August 2013

Camden International Film Festival, Points North Doc Forum – September 2013

New York Film Festival: Convergence – September 2013

West Virginia International Film Festival – October 2013

A Bright Economic Future for the Mountain State Conference – September 2013

IFP Conference – September 2013

Future of Storytelling: Story Arcade Exhibit – October 2013

Create West Virginia Conference – October 2013

Doc Lab at International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam – November 2013

DocYard: Boston – November 2013

Eastern Oregon Film Festival – February 2014

SXSW Interactive Awards – March 2014

i-Docs Conference (Bristol, UK) – March 2014

Appalachian Studies Conference – March 2014

Visions Du Reel i_docs workshop – April 2014

DC Webfest – September 2014

Magnum Photography Foundation: PhotoEx Symposium – October 2014

Festival du Nouveu Cinema (Montreal) – October 2014

Margaret Meade Festival at the American Museum of Natural History – October 2014

Woodstock Digital Media Festival – November 2014


2014 Emmy Nominee in New Approaches for Documentary

2014 ONA Excellence & Innovation in Visual Digital Storytelling award

2014 Webby Awards: “Web Community” honoree

2013 Peabody Award

FITC 2014 Awards Finalist in “Narrative” and “Best Visual Design” – March 2014

SXSW 2014 Finalist in “Activism” and “People’s Choice” awards – March 2014

World Press Photo 3rd Prize Award for Interactive Doc – March 2014

FWA Site of the Day (Aug. 28, 2013)

FWA: Adobe Cutting Edge Project of the Week (Nov. 11, 2013)

Finalist for the DocLab Storytelling Award at IDFA – November 2013

CSS Winner of the Day (Sept. 27, 2013)

National Coal Heritage Foundation: 2013 Research and Documentation Award


Elaine McMillion Sheldon: Director, Producer, Cinematographer

Jeff Soyk: Art Director/Web Designer and Architect

Robert Hall: Technical Director and Senior Developer

Russell Goldenberg: Interactive Developer

Tricia Fulks: Associate Producer and Researcher

Sarah Ginsburg: Editor

Kerrin Sheldon: Editor

Billy Wirasnik: Sound designer

Lee Strauss: Original Music


Purchase DVD

We have created a DVD that contains the 30 short films featured in the interactive doc. Purchase your copy here.

Our Viewers’ Tweets

I can say with confidence (Hollow) wins the Internet for 2013.

Beautiful documentary execution of both film and interactive. Put down the #netflix and watch this. #hollerhome

Exploring the greater tensions of modern America.

Everyone–historians, students, designers, developers–drop everything you’re doing and watch this interactive doc.

Hollow, the story of the American 20th century; the opening interaction is worth the price of admission (free) alone.

Beautifully arresting. Stereotype-busting. An interactive documentary about people and a community.

Hauntingly beautiful web-based storytelling

@hollowthefilm is a game changer for interactive storytelling. Stunning!