A Lens into Appalachia: A Conversation with Documentary Filmmakers
December 13, 2022

Save the date for the 2023 Wilma Dykeman Stokely Memorial Lecture on Tuesday, February 28, at 7 p.m. (EST), at the Bijou Theater. Join us for a conversation with director and producer Ashley York and documentary filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon. Our guests will address the portrayal of Appalachian culture in film and discuss their current projects.

The event is free and open to the public. Registration is requested, but not required, for the 2023 Wilma Dykeman Stokely Memorial Lecture.

Join us prior to the lecture to watch hillbilly. UT Libraries will screen the hillbilly film twice:
Thursday, February 23, at 5:30 p.m.
Monday, February 27, at 5:30 p.m.
John C. Hodges Library 
Lindsay Young Auditorium, 1st floor 
To attend the screening, RSVP to hodgessociety@utk.edu

Ashley York is a director and producer who is interested in documentaries, cinematic journalism, and media as a means for promoting social change and justice. She has worked on Academy Award-winning teams and as a producer on projects that have premiered at the Sundance, Berlin, and SXSW film festivals as well as on Netflix, HBO, National Geographic, Oprah Winfrey’s Network, A&E, IFC, Discovery, and the Sundance Channel.

York is the co-director of the documentary film hillbilly. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and filmed in Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, and California, the film uses a combination of personal narrative, regional history, and conversations with Appalachians ranging from York’s grandmother to scholar bell hooks to challenge pervasive perceptions of Appalachia, showcasing the African-American Affrilachian Poets workshop and the Appalachian Media Institute at Appalshop, where queer young adults find community and refuge.

hillbilly introduces audiences to a nuanced, authentic Appalachia that is quite conscious of how it has been portrayed and the impacts of those portrayals. The documentary deconstructs mainstream representations while asking crucial questions: Where did the hillbilly archetype come from and why has it endured on-screen for more than a hundred years? How does it relate to the exploitation of the land and people who live there? How do Appalachian and rural people view themselves as a result of these negative portrayals, and what is the impact on the rest of America?

York was born in Kentucky and attended the University of Kentucky, where she received a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She received her Master of Fine Arts from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts where she teaches in the Division of Media Arts + Practice.

photo: Elaine McMillion Sheldon

Elaine McMillion Sheldon is an Academy Award-nominated and Emmy and Peabody-winning documentary filmmaker. Sheldon is the director of two Netflix original documentaries, Heroin(e) and Recovery Boys, that explore America’s opioid crisis. She has been named a Creative Capital Awardee, Guggenheim Fellow, a USA Fellow by United States Artists, and one of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film” by Filmmaker magazine.

Sheldon will premiere her forthcoming feature-length documentary, King Coal, at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. King Coal documents the journey of a coal miner’s daughter exploring the region’s dreams and myths, untangling the pain and beauty, as her community sits on the brink of massive change. Her 2019 film Coal’s Deadly Dust, which investigates the rise of black lung disease among coal miners, was nominated for two Emmy awards. Her interactive documentary, Hollow, winner of a Peabody Award, examines the future of rural America through the eyes and voices of West Virginians.

Sheldon is an assistant professor of cinema studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.


The lecture is hosted by Friends of the Knox County Public Library, the John C. Hodges Society of the University of Tennessee Libraries, and UT’s Cinema Studies Program. The lecture honors the late Wilma Dykeman Stokely (1920–2006), writer, speaker, teacher, historian, environmentalist, and long-time friend of the Knox County Public Library. Her papers are part of the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Tennessee Libraries. Speakers at the Wilma Dykeman Stokely Memorial Lecture represent a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and work, but all have a deep connection to one or more of Stokely’s passions: Appalachia, the environment, and racial and gender equity.