For director Elaine McMillion Sheldon, the documentary “Heroin(e)” was personal. Her Oscar-nominated short follows three women in Huntington, West Virginia, trying to help victims of the opioid epidemic. A resident of the state, which leads the nation in drug overdose deaths, Sheldon wanted to make the film because the crisis has “impacted a lot of people I know in a very personal way.” But rather than paint a bleak portrait, Sheldon hoped to shine a light on “the people on the ground actually working towards change every day.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Sheldon above.
When Sheldon and her husband, producer and cinematographer Kerrin James Sheldon, first set out to make the film they weren’t quite sure what it would be about. “It was more research around trying to find stories,” she explains. Through their travels they found Jan Rader, the first female fire chief in West Virginia’s history, who saves addicts from overdoses; judge Patricia Keller, a drug court judge who puts offenders through a two-year rehabilitation program in lieu of jail time; and Necia Freeman, a local missionary providing food and aid to women selling their bodies for heroin.
But Sheldon was mindful to keep her distance from her film’s three subjects. “We never wanted to hinder what they were doing on the ground,” she explains. “It took a little bit of time, but I certainly think it helps that we’re from here. We have a relationship to this issue and this state, and have a vested interest in showing a different version of West Virginia and Appalachia to the nation, which I think has a very one-dimensional view of this region.”
Sheldon has directed several documentaries, including the Peabody Award-winning interactive feature “Hollow” (2013). “Heroin(e)” competed at the Cinema Eye Honors Awards for Best Nonfiction Short. Will it now win the Oscar?
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