Director(s): Elaine McMillion Sheldon

Film description: A lyrical tapestry of a place and people, KING COAL meditates on the complex history and future of the coal industry, the communities it has shaped, the myths it has created. While deeply situated in Central Appalachia, the film transcends time and place, emphasizing the ways in which all are connected through an immersive mosaic of belonging, ritual, and imagination. Emerging from the long shadows of the coal mines, KING COAL untangles the pain from the beauty, and illuminates the innately human capacity for change.

Programmers notes: Poetry isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of the coal industry, but this meditative and enveloping documentary takes us there. Looking at the relationship between Appalachia and coal from angles historical, economic, cultural, and personal, Elaine McMillion Sheldon’s essay film, which premiered at Sundance 2023, finds surprising complexity and contradictions. What does it mean when pride in home and family is intertwined with an industry that scarred you while it fed you? King Coal is a gorgeous, nuanced work of film-based neo-folklore. Featuring the talents of breath artist and Baltimorean Shodekeh Talifero in the film’s artfully interwoven score and sound design.

Writer(s): Elaine McMillion Sheldon

Producer(s): Shane Boris, Diane Becker & Peggy Drexler

Editor(s): Iva Radivojević

Cinematographer(s): Curren Sheldon

Country of origin: USA

Language: English

Year: 2023

Duration: 78 minutes

Premiere status: Maryland premiere