A cathartically paced portrait of a community branded by its own self-aware dependency on prescription drugs, Sean Dunne’s directorial feature film debut, “Oxyana”, is a controversial yet necessary and affecting offering. The film plays out like a patient yet evocative conversation that lets the audience draw their own opinions. Dunne's documentary portraits Oceana, a small once thriving coal mining town in the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia. This is a community that that has been so stricken by prescription pill epidemic that it's residences have nicknamed it Oxyana. What we see is a people shaped by a failed system and the failed war on drugs.
Recognizing the innate beauty of Oceana and its surrounding areas, it doesn’t take long to also recognize the ghostly reminder of what once. As Dunne states, “Yet there it was, a constant and growing hum of anxiety. So we started to ask questions, and we started to get answers, all pointing towards a familiar narrative.” By leaving the camera on the subjects of the film and allowing their words to naturally flow, you get an honest, staunch depiction of dependency and addiction through the eyes of the ones that are suffering. We get their stories, and it’s a heartbreaking reality to face.
Winner of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival Best New Documentary Director Award, clearly both “Oxyana” and Dunne have earned their prestige. It is because this is a film that is as hauntingly memorable as it is a pretty necessary conversation starter to have on the film scene. It doesn’t set up the film’s subjects as failures of society to be laughed off and forgotten. It sets them up as tragic heroes, failed by something way bigger than we can imagine. The secrets buried deep within the rolling mountains and forests of this West Virginian region are laid bare, raw and untouched. In “Oxyana”, scandal and sensationalism are pushed aside for the true depth and revelation of honesty, pain, and darkness suffered through drug addiction. Dunne’s skillful ability to uncover that realistic, objective narrative regarding the outskirts of America is on full display. Produced by Cass Greener and Nadine Brown, “Oxyana” is being re-released on VOD and is truly a masterful, meditative documentary worth the watch, if only to see how well Oceana finds and displays its own unique, troubled voice for the rest of the world to try and understand.