Central Appalachia is a place of mountains and myth. Director Elaine McMillion Sheldon knows this well, calling those mountains home. 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. The hybrid approach allows 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. The end of one story welcomes the beginning of another.