A lyrical tapestry of a place and people, KING COAL meditates on the complex history and future of the coal industry, the communities it has built, and the myths it has created. Director Elaine McMillion Sheldon reshapes the boundaries of documentary filmmaking in a spectacularly beautiful and deeply moving immersion into Central Appalachia where coal is not just a resource, but a way of life, imagining the ways a community can re-envision itself. Central Appalachia is a place of mountains and myth and Academy Award-nominated and Emmy and Peabody Award-winning documentary filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon knows this well, calling those mountains home. KING COAL has had a profound influence on this community’s identity, but Sheldon dares to consider what future stories might look like out of the shadow of coal, now that relationships to coal are changing. She takes us on an alluring cinematic journey through the past, present, and future of Appalachia. Sheldon’s distinct vision remixes present-day moments of life in a coal-mining town with archival footage and atmospheric invocations of the land to alchemize something new — a rare, nuanced depiction of this community. A young girl learning the story of coal anchors the journey while Sheldon’s poetic voiceover guides us through the experience and an expressive score differentiates the reality of coal from a more imaginative world. This hybrid approach allows our guest, Elaine McMillion Sheldon to explore the act of storytelling itself and is a magical reclamation of the power of stories to shape how a region sees itself. Emerging from the long shadows of the coal mines, KING COAL untangles the pain from the beauty, and illuminates the innately human capacity for change.
About the filmmaker – Elaine McMillion Sheldon is an Academy Award-nominated and Emmy and Peabody Award-winning documentary filmmaker. She is the director of two Netflix Original Documentaries – “Heroin(e)” and “Recovery Boys” – that explore America’s opioid crisis. “Heroin(e)” was nominated for a 2018 Academy Award and won the 2018 Emmy Award for Outstanding Short Documentary. In 2013, she released “Hollow,” an interactive documentary that examines the future of rural America through the eyes and voices of West Virginians. Hollow received a Peabody, Emmy nomination and 3rd Prize in the World Press Photo Multimedia Awards. Sheldon has appeared on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Anthony Bourdain’s CNN Show Parts Unknown and Meet The Press with Chuck Todd. She was recently named a 2018 USA Fellow by United States Artists, one of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film” by Filmmaker Magazine and one of “50 People Changing The South” by Southern Living Magazine. In 2016, Chicken & Egg Pictures awarded her with the inaugural “Breakthrough Filmmaker” award. She’s a founding member of All Y’all Southern Documentary Collective. She has been commissioned by Netflix, Frontline PBS, The Center for Investigative Reporting, The New York Times Op-Docs, TEDWomen, Field of Vision, and The Bitter Southerner. elainemcmillionsheldon.com
“Filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon, a native of [West Virginia], has done a breathtakingly expressive job of capturing the strangeness, the beauty and the devastation of her homeland in the poetic, entrancing documentary King Coal.” – Kyle Smith, Wall Street Journal
“harsh, haunted, and spiritual but hopeful still…[told] from the POV of a girl both loyal and inquisitive about the reign of what she calls “King Coal,” the film is an artwork and a tribute told with poetic and visual lyricism.” – Sherin Nicole, Geek Girl Riot
“Pleasingly difficult to pin down when the narrative truly feels moved by the spirit, the fact that “King Coal” comes alive in the mind full of possibility makes one think the same potential exists on the ground.” – Stephen Saito, Moveable Fest
“Sheldon also locates the beauty, potentiality and sorrow of the region to its surrounding mountain ranges, from forested rolling hills to the mounds of coal on river barges.” – Robert Daniels, New York Times