Empathy in a Red State

West Side, Charleston, West Virginia. All photos by Elaine McMillion Sheldon.

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Empathy in a Red State

by Elaine McMillion Sheldon
Southern Cultures, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Documentary Moment)

“I have skin in the game. I live here. Appalachians hold me accountable at the grocery store, and that makes the work, and me, more honest.”

The week of March 13, 2017, was like any other week for me. I was hustling to get access to a tense courtroom for my feature documentary Recovery Boys and working remotely with Los Angeles–based composer Daniel Hart on the music for my short film Heroin(e). Both films explore the opioid crisis in Appalachia. I’m a documentary filmmaker living in West Virginia, a state without a formal filmmaking community, and the feeling of straddling geographies is a familiar one. The handful of us that do document the state often do so alone and with few resources.