Academy Award Nominees Team for Post-Coal Appalachia Hybrid Doc ‘King Coal’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Emiliano De Pablos
·4 min read

Director Elaine McMillion Sheldon (“Heroin(e)“) and producer Shane Boris (“The Edge of Democracy”), two multi-award winning U.S. filmmakers, are joining forces on hybrid documentary “King Coal,” focused on post-coal Appalachia.

Co-produced by Boris’ outfit Cottage M and Requisite Media, the Tennessee-based company directed by Sheldon, “King Coal” is in an early production stage, scheduled to be completed and delivered by December 2022.

The documentary has been selected to be presented at VdR-Pitching forum, one of the key industry sections at the current Visions du Réel festival edition.

Although its development funding has been grant-driven with partners such as Tribeca, Creative Capital, Sundance, Catapult, Guggenheim Fellowship and West Virginia Humanities Council, the filmmakers continue to apply for grants as well as to speak with potential financing partners to help close its budget and provide strategic and creative support.

“We’ve chosen to independently produce ‘King Coal’ at this time, but we will approach distributors and streamers in the future as the project evolves,” said producer Boris, whose credits take in Oscar-nominated documentary “The Edge of Democracy” (2019) and Sundance 2016 Jury Award winner “All These Sleepless Nights.”

“We’re still building out our creative team, including actively seeking international sales representation, co-producers, and creative crew, including an editor and we’re looking forward to meeting more broadcasters and festival programmers,” he added.

An Academy Award-nominated and Emmy and Peabody-winning filmmaker, Sheldon has directed Netflix Originals “Heroin(e)” (2017) and “Recovery Boys” (2018), both exploring America’s opioid crisis.

“’King Coal’ takes place in the same region -as ‘Heroin(e)’ and ‘Recovery Boys’- Central Appalachia – that I am originally from and have been documenting for close to a decade. The film builds upon the trust, knowledge and intimacy I have with stories from this lesser-documented corner of America. ‘King Coal’ is a departure from the verité films I have made since 2010,” Sheldon says.

“King Coal” frames two worlds – frames two ways of seeing the world. It is a documentary of a dreamscape, named Vandalia, and of a reality, named Westyvania.

“We explore these two psyches, through the form of a hybrid documentary and a fictional character, named Violet, from the land of Vandalia. The hybrid form allows us to tap into the psyche of Appalachians and play with imagined futures and pasts of the region, rather than solely relying on well-trodden narratives of extraction surrounding the coal industry,” explains.

She adds: “As my artistic practice as an ‘observer’ has evolved, I desire to fill a gap in the post-coal conversation with my lived experiences as someone who grew up in the coalfields of Appalachia. ‘King Coal’ centers its narrative on unearthing the psychological aspects of belonging and pride. It’s a film that intimately explores a region’s lost dreams to help discover a new future.”

“For too long, Appalachia is a region that has been defined by its problems – especially through media representation. It needs a chance to see itself anew in our global, post-coal reality. This film provides an opportunity to reckon with our past, while attempting to create new narratives of resilience and renewal.”

“Elaine’s past films are masterclasses in verité filmmaking and sensitive character development,” Boris commented.

“‘King Coal’ marks a really exciting creative leap in her already Academy Award nominated career, as she merges her direct cinema experience with new forays into magical realism,” he went on. “For me, it’s always most exciting to work with a filmmaker who is making a film that no one else can make. This is precisely that kind of film.”

“I’ve helped produce several films that disrupt classical documentary genres including ‘All These Sleepless Nights’ and ‘The Edge Of Democracy’ and it’s an honor to bring some of that experience into this formally daring film that looks at the contours of our past with closeness, criticality and compassion so that we may emerge the better for it, rather than resolve to merely (and impossibly) relive it,” he added.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.