Elaine McMillion Sheldon’s “King Coal” to Premiere at Sundance Film Festival
Filmmaker and faculty member Elaine McMillion Sheldon’s King Coal to be screened at Sundance Film Festival. The Sundance “Meet the Artist” video is available on YouTube.
Robert Redford, president and founder of the Sundance Institute, says, “Storytellers broaden our minds: engage, provoke, inspire, and ultimately, connect us.” Elaine McMillion Sheldon, assistant professor of Cinema Studies at University of Tennessee’s School of Art, is a storyteller. Many of her stories take her viewers on rambling walks in the hills of West Virginia, where she spent her childhood. Most recently, she produced a documentary titled, King Coal, a tale that digs into the very ground of her heritage, and the mines where her grandparents and uncles, brother and cousin worked.
Sundance Film Festival – 2023 has just announced the list of films that will be screened in-person and online from January 19-29. Sheldon’s feature film, King Coal, will have its world premiere as part of the “Next” section at the Sundance Festival. The “Next” films represent visionary works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling.
Director and Producer Sheldon worked alongside producers, Shane Boris, Diane Becker, and Peggy Drexler in bringing this nonfiction story to the screen. The Sundance program describes the film:
“The cultural roots of coal continue to permeate the rituals of daily life in Appalachia even as its economic power wanes. The journey of a coal miner’s daughter exploring the region’s dreams and myths, untangling the pain and beauty, as her community sits on the brink of massive change.
“Central Appalachia is a place of mountains and myth. Director Elaine 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. ”
This film is inhabited by Gabby and Lanie, two young girls who live in the coalfields of Appalachia.
Elaine McMillion Sheldon has been working on this film since 2019. She states, “I am extremely grateful to everyone who has helped me get to this stage of finishing. This film is truly a new creative exploration for me – and departure from my previous work – so to have the support of Sundance is incredible.”
The University of Tennessee School of Art is fortunate to have Sheldon here in Knoxville as part of its Cinema Studies faculty team. Sheldon and her work were featured in the 2021 Torchbearer Magazine.
Learn more about her and her craft at https://torchbearer.utk.edu/2021/06/deeply-rooted/