Tribeca Film Festival 2013
By Don Simpson | April 24, 2013
Director: Sean Dunne
Anyone who has ever visited — or, more likely, driven through — West Virginia has experienced its breathtaking natural beauty. Unfortunately, human life in this part of the country is not nearly as idyllic. With a local economy that has been stuck in a catatonic state ever since the death of the coal mining industry, the black market demand of prescription medications is one of the only money-making opportunities in the financially-ravaged area.
More West Virginians are on prescription medication than any other state; it should also come as no surprise that West Virginia also boasts the highest rate of prescription overdoses in the United States. Sean Dunne’s Oxyana focuses on the quaint coal mining town of Oceana, a microcosm of the prescription drug epidemic in West Virginia. A wide-variety of very forthcoming interviewees present us with a rather complete picture of the staggering reality. Nearly an entire generation of Oceana is addicted to prescription medication, seemingly unable to do anything else with their lives. With the rampant addiction, the supply side of the economic equation is thriving. On the demand side, local dealers know certain doctors who will prescribe large quantities of OxyContin and other medications for a mere $1,000-per-visit charge. So all the inhabitants of Oceana need is the money to pay their dealers for a daily fix. Theft, prostitution and murder have now become commonplace in a town where, only a decade ago, inhabitants used to leave their doors unlocked.
We witness many of the subjects of this documentary doing drugs during the course of their interviews. The often meandering talking head interviews do seem to repeat a lot of the same information, but this essentially allows for the interviewees to collaborate each other’s stories. That said, the real beauty of Oxyana comes whenever director Sean Dunne turns his attention away from the interview footage and captures life unawares. When given the opportunity, Hillary Spera’s cinematography, in tandem with Jonny Fritz and John McCauley’s score, captures the true essence of Oceana and its inhabitants. Through Spera’s lens, even the ugliest details become strangely beautiful.