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Sheldon (’08) nominated for Emmy for Sesame Street video on addiction

by Chuck Gordon


The award nominations keep piling up for Curren and Elaine McMillion Sheldon. The documentary filmmakers have already won a News and Documentary Emmy and been nominated for an Oscar. Now they’re in the running for a Daytime Emmy as well.

The Sheldons’ short Parental Addiction – Meet Salia, produced for Sesame Street in Communities, is one of five nominees in the Outstanding Short Format Children’s Program category. A two-hour Daytime Emmys ceremony is scheduled to air tonight at 8, though Curren, who graduated from Wingate in 2008 with a degree in communication, says he was notified recently that the winners of the Sheldons’ category will not be announced until mid-July.

The nomination caught Curren somewhat off-guard. “The daytime Emmy Awards is mostly soap operas and talk shows,” he says, “so it’s an interesting one to be looped in with.”

Kerrin Sheldon and his wife, Elaine McMillion Sheldon, after they won an Emmy.

The Sheldons’ usual subject matter is far from the light-hearted fare normally associated with the Daytime Emmys. Their short Heroin(e), which is available on Netflix, is a documentary that tells the story of three women on the frontlines of the battle against opioid addiction: a fire chief, a family-court judge and a mission volunteer. That film earned them their Emmy Award and an Oscar nomination. The Sheldons have also directed a feature-length documentary, Recovery Boys, about four men in a drug-rehab program, in addition to other commercial projects (including directing the last video made by the heralded singer-songwriter John Prine).

A producer at Sesame Street in Communities was familiar with the Sheldons’ addiction-related work and contacted them about creating something for children whose parents have struggled with addiction. Sesame Street also recently introduced a new muppet, Karli, who is in foster care and whose mother is in treatment for substance abuse. “They wanted to do a new project to talk to kids about addiction and how to deal with that and kind of what their parents are going through,” Curren says.

Producing a documentary aimed at children presented a challenge for the Sheldons. They had to find the right family to highlight, and then they had to make sure they kept the writing and editing aimed at preschoolers.

“It was difficult to find parents who are pretty solid in recovery, in recovery for four or five years, and have a child who’s close to Sesame Street age but is old enough to articulate what it’s like to have parents who have struggled with addiction,” Curren says.

Salia Woodbury turned out to be the perfect fit. The 10-year-old California girl was sent to live with her grandparents when she was a preschooler while her parents went to rehab. In the six-minute video, she talks about her parents’ stint in rehab, what addiction means, how she coped with it then and how much rehab helped her parents.

The video is clearly aimed at children, despite the difficult subject matter. It was designed to show children affected by addiction that they’re not alone and that addiction is a disease.

The project provided the Sheldons with a way to present an aspect of the opioid crisis they hadn’t been able to address before.

“When we made Heroin(e) and Recovery Boys, one thing that kept popping up was all the kids who are sort of caught up in this, not by any choice of their own,” Curren says. “We just didn’t have that many opportunities to tell the kids’ side of the story.”

In addition to Meet Salia, the Sheldons made another short documentary for Sesame Street in Communities: a portrait of a provider at the Hazelden Betty Ford Center.

Curren has been less active since the coronavirus pandemic hit the States this spring, but he is currently editing his next documentary, a feature-length film about professional boxing in Appalachia.

Learn more about Wingate University’s communications program.

June 26, 2020