Elaine McMillion Sheldon, MFA ’13 had read too many obituaries for people who had overdosed on heroin, so she picked up her camera and shot what would become her Academy Award-nominated short documentary, Heroin(e).
“I felt some responsibility to find a story,” she said. “I personally wanted to find stories that could help start a different conversation around the hope and resilience that we need to overcome this problem.”
McMillion Sheldon told the story of the film to an Emerson College audience Thursday, February 15, in the Bright Family Screening Room, following its screening of the film. Heroin(e) is about three women working to combat the opioid epidemic in Huntington, West Virginia. She Skyped in from a fire truck on her way to a second screening.
While interviewing several people in Huntington, McMillion Sheldon, along with her husband, Kerrin Sheldon, and Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader, one of the film’s subjects, noticed that the city was much more pro-active than other communities it came to combatting the opioid epidemic.
In addition to Rader, the film also follows Drug Court Judge Patricia Keller, who hands down sentences with empathy, and Necia Freeman of Brown Bag Ministry, who feeds women selling their bodies for drugs.
According to McMillion Sheldon, the footage from those interviews sat on a hard drive for months before receiving funding from the Center for Investigative Reporting for short films about women making change.
She said that the reason they chose to follow the fire department is because they are normally the first on the scene in the event of an overdose.
“[N]one of the men [on the fire department] and Jan — she’s the only woman on the force — were prepared to see this much death,” McMillion Sheldon said.
When asked about how she will use what she’s learned from filming Heroin(e) in the future, McMillion Sheldon said it was important to connect with subjects and present an authentic film.
“For me, the awards are great, obviously it’s an honor, but it’s more important that the people that I am building a relationship with and documenting feel represented by what I put out there,” she said.
McMillion Sheldon credits Netflix for the success of Heroin(e). Through Netflix, Heroin(e) has been made available for educational screenings here.
“We’re really lucky to have them behind us,” she said.
In an attempt to shine a light on the recovery period and the stigma surrounding recovery, McMillion Sheldon is releasing a film this year titled Recovery Boys, which is about four men going through the process.