Hollow – An Interactive Documentary

Hollow is an interactive documentary that was released in 2013 and focuses on West Virginia’s McDowell County. The interactive film features over 30 stories focusing on the people of McDowell Country from the past, present, and future. This film introduces its audience to a world of poverty and American ruralism through its vivid imagery, sound design, and occasional text.

The film begins in the 1940’s when coal miners were moving in droves to the small West Virginia county for a chance to make some money. Eventually the timeline progresses telling the interesting story of McDowell county with its odd visits by presidents and Rocket Boys. A population meter is also visible throughout the scrolling process as an indicator of how well the county is doing, with it reaching its climax in the 1950’s with 100,000 individuals. From there it is evident in seeing how the county begins to fall apart. Jobs are lost, drug abuse runs rampant, and a whole other host of problems. Overall the simple setting of McDowell County has the same model that many counties across the United States face where after leaving, nobody wishes to go back.

Once scrolling through the first section of the past titled The Way It Was, the audience then gets to hear firsthand from residents about their county and why they live there in These Roots. The first story from Alan Johnson is especially touching as he has spent the last few years attempting to document the town that he grew up in.


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Alan Johnson plays a piano in an abandoned school – Hollow, 2013

One of the really unique parts about Alan is his connection to music. He mentions that he grew up in this small West Virginia County with his dad being a champion fiddle player and it is clear that that event in his life shaped who he grew up to be. Even in the film we can see him playing a piano in an abandoned school with his musical tattoos, both of which give you an understanding as to how much he enjoys music. Perhaps it served as a relief or just as a way to pass the time but it is apparent how much Alan really enjoys his musical abilities.

Later in other sections the audience begins to really learn what is crippling the county through the lack of jobs and business as well as other social problems like drug abuse and crime. It was a combination of drugs and crime that led to the death of an interviewee and mayor of War, WV in McDowell County, Mr. Tom Hatcher. Hatcher was murdered by his daughter-in-law and her brother in order to steal money to illegally buy prescription medication.

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Prescription Overdose Deaths – Hollow, 2013

Hollow even includes some of the facts about drug abuse in this small county. Overall it is apparent that McDowell County is and has been declining since the 1950’s much like many other counties in the US. The residents of these places will have to find alternative methods to produce income or face the reality of having to move away from their homes.


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