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Award-winning documentary filmmaker and West Virginia native Elaine McMillion Sheldon is among the 2021 Capital Creative Award winners. The award includes a grant of up to $50,000 to fund a project and professional development.

CHARLESTON — Documentary filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon has been named as part of the 2021 class of Creative Capital Awards.

Creative Capital is nonprofit that serves to provide awards and advisory services to a variety of artistic disciplines. The organization was founded in 1999, in part, to help support artists affected by cuts by the National Endowment for the Arts to funding for individual artists.

Thousands of artists apply every year for considerations. Around 50 are chosen among the screened applicants.

The Logan County native was one of 42 artists working on 35 projects to receive an award.

Best known for her Oscar-nominated Emmy Award-winning documentary “Heroine,” the director will receive up to $50,000 to help fund her project, “King Coal,” which “employs magical realism and documentary vignettes of Appalachians to explore how coal is imbued in the region’s identity.”

Sheldon said she’s been working on “King Coal” for over a year and a half.

“This is the first documentary I’ve done that incorporates fictional elements, so it’s kind of a hybrid documentary,” the director said.

The award comes at a good time. With limitations and difficulties to film-making imposed by COVID-19, money from the award will help Sheldon continue to develop “King Coal” into a finished project.

The grant money will be released incrementally, as “King Coal” reaches different stages in the production, but Sheldon said the money was really only part of the package and maybe not the most important part of the award.

“The funding is awesome,” she said. “When you’re making a film, every single piece of funding is essential, but the strategic planning that comes with the award is so important.”

Creative Capital also offers career development services, which she said could help her further shape her career.

“I knew Creative Capital was looking for people who were challenging themselves in a way they hadn’t before, so I applied,” Sheldon said. “It was the first time and I’m very honored to have been chosen.”

Along with “Heroine,” Sheldon directed “Recovery Boys” and “Hollow.” She has worked with Netflix, Frontline PBS, The Center for Investigative Reporting, The New York Times and several others.

Currently, Sheldon, a 2020 Guggenheim Fellow, is an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee’s School of Art.

Reach Bill Lynch at, 304-348-5195 or follow @lostHwys on Twitter. He’s also on Instagram at and read his blog at

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