The project's title was inspired by a 2009 book by sociologists Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas titled "Hollowing Out the Middle" (Beacon Press). Its premise is that the flight from depressed rural communities fundamentally harms the economic health of a nation whose fortunes are tied to its heartland.
But McMillion hunkered down in Welch and other communities specifically to document the forward-looking hopes of the old and young who call the place home.
"The people I have met this summer are among the most amazing people I've ever met. I really think of them as friends and family. They took care of me, fed me," she said.
In return, she asked them to share their ideas and visions of a better future or to take up a camera in their own hands. A bunch of residents produced footage to be edited into "video portraits" on the project website, hollowthefilm.com.
The shooting will continue on now that the documentarians have departed, as 15 "community filmmakers" who learned how to shoot now teach others, passing around the five cameras left behind.
"We definitely created citizen journalists -- you could call them that. I was particularly excited to get some young people interested in it," McMillion said.
The "Hollow" site will also feature photography, soundscapes, aerial cartography and user-friendly data from a website powered by the more multimedia, interactive and graphic-friendly HTML5 technology. For instance, McMillion worked this summer with young people at a McDowell 4-H camp, asking them to visualize a new community center. Her team will take all the drawings and animate them for the website. "They became architects of a sort to draw their future community center, what they'd like to see come to McDowell County," she said.
It's one of many tasks ahead before the project is formally unveiled sometime in May. "So, there's a lot of postproduction beyond video editing that needs to be done," she said.
McMillion, a 2005 graduate of South Charleston High School, co-founded the WVU journalism school's "WV Uncovered" project, which features short video documentaries told from rural areas. "Hollow" takes such an effort to the next level, combining the latest in digital communication with classic storytelling on behalf of collective change in McDowell County.
"I really hope this project can help improve those communities," she said. "I think there's a lot of hope there and a lot of change that could happen. It's just a matter of getting people together to make it happen."
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at doug...@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.