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Tribeca: Breakout Director Sean Dunne Talks 'Oxyana' and a Portrait of a Town's Addiction

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by Maggie Lange
April 23, 2013 2:56 AM
1 Comment
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When people describe Oceana of ten years ago, they describe an idealistic small town--"kind of like the 50s," says one man interviewed in Sean Dunne's first feature documentary "Oxyana." People in the town of 1,400 used to keep doors unlocked and let children play freely in the streets. Now, people are afraid to walk alone in a residential neighborhood. Locked doors don't prevent break-ins from people "trying to feed addictions." People have nicknamed the town Oxyana, after oxycontin, the drug that has addicted hundreds and taken countless lives in the West Virginia town.

With "Oxyana," director Sean Dunne, who was nominated for an Emmy for 2011's "The Archive," has created a sensitive, powerful, and important account of a particularly dark moment in a quiet American town.

Why did Dunne call his documentary after the nickname rather than the town's actual name? "It's set in Oceana but to me Oxyana is not Oceana. They are two separate things. To me Oxyana is a temporary thing and a temporary place. It's something that could go away, but it doesn't look like it's going to go away any time soon."

The people whose stories comprise "Oxyana" are astoundingly candid. They are open about their addictions, how their habits have destroyed families, and the terrible measures they've taken to get fixes--prostitution and murder frequently among them. Many of the people in "Oxyana" take pills, snort, or shoot up oxycontin on camera. It's hard to watch, Dunne agrees, saying that looking at his own film has caused him to turn away at moments. 

"I couldn't censor them, I just gave them a forum to speak about their issue," he says. "We really need to be careful because we are taking on responsibility for taking on a place and a serious issue going on in this place. I couldn't pull punches and sugar-coat this film because it would have been a huge disservice."

Dunne says many urgently wanted to talk on camera. When the residents of Oceana saw a film crew and microphone, they saw their chance to tell their story in a town that wasn't talking. Dr. Mike Moore, a dentist in Oceana, told me that within the community there is "zero dialogue." There is shame and judgment and denial in the town. But in the interviews Dunne filmed, there is a completely raw, desperate candor. They need to speak and "Oxyana" lets them.

1 Comment

  • Dhalgren | April 23, 2013 9:23 AMReply

    An extremely well shot documentary. It is very refreshing to not have any voice over. But a map or two would have been helpful.

    The documentary has one large flaw. The stories come from the users and buyers themselves. So for the first 10-15 minutes, we see people telling us that Oceana has changed for the worse, and has a black cloud over it, and has descended into despair. But we don't see any hard proof. In fact, there are residents in the town who deny how bad things have gotten. What's interesting about the majority of the deniers is that they are more religious folk. So it would have been more interesting to see how the religious non users look down upon the addicts, and how that religious divide is one of the reasons the problem (which is real and becomes more apparent as with each passing minute of the film) is not being addressed by the community or government. It would have been nice to see a pharmacist or politician speak as well. We want to know....who is filling these out of state prescriptions? I see Oxyana as a work in progress. More digging needs to be done. Mr. Dunne should ask his parents for more cash and finance another trip down there. I think I saw his parents names with Producer credits.

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