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Female Filmmaker Friday | ELAINE MCMILLION SHELDON

My new female documentary director crush is Elaine McMillion Sheldon. She's an academy award nominated documentary director based in West Virginia. Her work largely focuses on the Heroin(e) epidemic affecting our country. Her first film to make it to Netflix got my attention long before it was nominated for an academy award. It's a stunning piece of work and is still on Netflix. I highly recommend you add it to your list. 

In the face of the opioid epidemic in a West Virginia town, three women are giving their community a fighting chance. Heroin(e), only on Netflix September 12.

As a documentary filmmaker myself, I know how hard it is to craft relationships and stories within a complex backdrop. The topics Elaine explores are presented with compassion for its subjects. Something I feel very strongly about in my own work. I think it is easy to present a shocking story about drug addicts. It's easy for an audience to gawk voyeuristically, say "how horrible," and move on. I think we larlgey have our news outlets and reality television to thank for that. Elaine's work does the opposite. She dives in deep with her subjects and presents them to her audiences with a tender curiosity. 


I just finished her new film Recovery Boys and am equally inspired by the work. It's emotional, heartbreaking and compassionate. Her complicated subjects are treated with respect by her lens and it pays off in her ability to dive in with people and get them to reveal their true selves on camera.  


I won't reveal much about the "boys," here. I'd rather you see the film. Social issue documentaries have the power to heal, create change, inspire and influence our society in ways that our media outlets can not. It's why I love it so much. I have spent a large part of my career helping non-profits fundraise through documentary films with my peeps over at fig media. I take great care to let my subjects be the voice as much as possible. That is not easy. Personal bias, the desires or my clients and the audiences who donate money to such causes make navigating the stories I tell difficult. So when I see work that I can relate to in this way, I get excited.  

Elaine brings the human element of her stories into spaces that we only hear about in negative contexts in our news. She takes your hand and guides you through these spaces with her camera. She strays from being an essayist and lets her message evolve through the people she follows. This gives her subjects the chance to be the voice versus her directing being out front.

A quick look at her website, made me giggle. She and I use the same website template, we both shoot photography. I didn't realize that one of my favorite Frontline episodes is hers and damn it - she's six years younger than me.  So, Elaine, I am officially a big fan. If you are ever in Chicago, let's have lunch. I promise not to gush too much.

I got some work to do to catch up. 

*Opens a new tab and 'Googles' Documentary grants.* 


In the works ...


In the works ...

My calendar is a beautiful color coded hot mess of appointments, meetings, deadlines, and productions. I repeat to myself that I am fueled and nourished by my clients, subjects, and films that I get to create. This helps me push through the next round of work. 

I keep going back to a visualization I had while having my aura read about ten years ago. I was told that my energy was grounded and I am delightfully and magically making the world move about me as I move through it. As a director, I loved that image. Right now, I am in it. The world is swirling around me and I am slowly stepping through it. 

From the inside, it is a thrilling and scary place to be. I am questioning my work, what I have to say and what I have created thus far. I am feeling pulled toward my new age. I feel a new transformation bubbling underneath all this activity and I am not sure where it is leading me quite yet. 

I've come here to update. But really, I think I just needed a minute to put some thoughts on paper. I am feeling ready for my next artistic iteration, my reinvention or emergence. I know it is happening underneath the surface, but I have yet to give this new found "thing" a voice.

That's all I have for the moment. I have lots of cool new work to share. Which is the source of all this activity. I've been keeping my instagram updated, come join me there: @melissafoxmedia





Currently Inspired By: Marina Abramović


Currently Inspired By: Marina Abramović

I spend a lot of time interviewing people on camera. As a documentary director, I have spent a fair amount of time listening. I consider myself a professional witness and documentarian. I look people in the eyes and I listen to their stories, for a living. 

I gently guide them to go deeper through curiosity and I record the experience to edit into films. Ultimately, my goal is to capture authenticity. To help people connect to themselves so their genius unfolds naturally. The pieces I work on are commissioned from non-profits, human resource departments, luxury brands, small businesses, arts organizations and small businesses. 

I’ve spent fifteen years honing my craft professionally through whatever opportunity I could gather. I can remember every person I have ever interviewed vividly through the intense eye contact we make when I work. I work hard to stay present with that person, present with myself. I have come to the sad conclusion, as of late, that most people I sit with have not had that kind of attention bestowed upon them. I am not even sure the person I am sitting with realizes how much of an impact that moment of presence is having on them. When I first started, I was oblivious to the effect it was having on me. After time I began to realize how powerful eye contact is. It is prevalent in my work. A theme I have noticed pop up only recently. 

Turning the camera on and recording someone’s story is a transformative and honoring act. Simply pressing record says “you matter enough to be documented.” It doesn’t matter what the project is for. If it’s an event recap for a magazine brand or a non-profit. That connection is present no matter the material. 

I am currently inspired by Marina Ambramović. I first learned about her in art school while studying performance art. While the project I am about to reference is not new, its about seven years old, but it’s impact on me deepens as I age. 

If you aren’t familiar with her work, put The Artist is Present on your Netflix list immediately. They used to have it available for streaming. You can also see it on HBO or Amazon Prime. 

Marina invited people to sit silently with her at the Met. She would take a deep breath, lift her eyes and hold eye contact with each person as long as they wanted. Some people sat for minutes, others sat for hours. She did this on repeat for 736 hours and 30 minutes over the course of three months. The piece was documented on film and photography. I recently received a copy of the photographs of participants from the exhibition, photographed by Marco Anelli. Gorgeous work! 

Do yourself a favor. Take five minutes and listen to Marina's TED Talk before moving on. 

I was watching these people, they would come and sit in front of me, but they would have to wait for hours and hours and hours to get to this position, and finally, they sit. And what happened? They are observed by the other people, they’re photographed, they’re filmed by the camera, they’re observed by me and they have nowhere to escape except in themselves. And that makes a difference. There was so much pain and loneliness, there’s so much incredible things when you look in somebody else’s eyes, because in the gaze with that total stranger, that you never even say one word — everything happened. And I understood when I stood up from that chair after three months, I am not the same anymore. And I understood that I have a very strong mission, that I have to communicate this experience to everybody.
— Marina Abramović: An art made of trust, vulnerability and connection. TED 2015

Every time I come back to this particular work with new experience, I discover something new about it. While I would love to share my personal insights. 
I think it is best to let you listen, enjoy and discover Marina for yourself. That's what her work is all about. Comment with your thoughts below! 


Photography by Marco Aneli. 
TED 2015, An art made of trust, vulnerability and connection.ć