Elaine McMillion Sheldon

A native West Virginian, Elaine McMillion Sheldon is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, whose penchant for telling stories is unflinchingly Appalachian. 

Elaine earned critical acclaim for her 2017 film, “Heroin(e),” which tells the story of now-retired Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader. In 2018, Rader’s leadership throughout the city’s crippling opioid epidemic saw her named as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. The short-film earned Elaine her first Oscar nomination, and won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Short Documentary. 

With the announcement of Oscar’s 2024 nominations looming, and with this year’s release of “King Coal” – quite possibly Elaine’s magnum opus – it seems a certainty that the filmmaker will hear her name called once again.

In “King Coal,” Elaine provides a glimpse into Appalachian-life during the dying days of an industrial empire, while gently honoring those days when that empire still flourished. In a recent appearance on John Ridley’s “Doc Talk” podcast, Elaine said of the film, “It felt like such a personal story that I wasn’t ready to tell until now.”

“It became a story not necessarily about facts and figures, because there’s only 10,000 miners left in West Virginia, but it became one about the psyche and the soul, and about having a conversation about what it means to reinvent ourselves, and what it means to lose,” Elaine added. “While this force has not been all good, recognizing the good and bad of what we’ve come from to rebuild ourselves into something new.”

For representing the best of West Virginia, and for being one of those pillars upon which the state can rebuild, we are proud to name Elaine McMillion Sheldon as the certified Real West Virginian of the Week.

Know of someone who deserves to be our next Real West Virginian of the Week? Please submit nominations via email to news@therealwv.com. 

A portrait Elaine McMillion Sheldon for a Torchbearer Magazine article on March 23, 2021. Photo by Steven Bridges/University of Tennessee

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