The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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September 6, 2012

‘Oxyana’ documentary doesn’t paint flattering picture of area, residents say

Producer says film shows reality of prescription drug problem

OCEANA — Production is on schedule for “Oxyana,” a widely debated documentary about the prescription drug abuse epidemic in southern West Virginia.

“We are in the midst of editing right now,” filmmaker Sean Dunne said. “We plan on going back to Wyoming County next week to finish our shooting.”

Filming has been primarily in Oceana and Pineville, where many residents fear this documentary will have a negative impact on their communities.

Ashley Stewart, an Oceana resident for the past four years, first heard about the film on Facebook.

“Considering the title of the film, you could understand that I was irritated and skeptical,” Stewart said. “After ‘The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia’ made its debut, it pretty much ruined whatever kind of progress West Virginia had made as a state breaking down our stereotypes.”

Stewart became increasingly concerned after reading opinions online, watching the trailer and viewing the website. She decided to contact the filmmakers to hear their side of the story.

Nadine Brown, one of the producers, replied to Stewart’s e-mail and said, “Please know, our intention is not to portray the residents of West Virginia as idiots. We are NOT MTV trying to create a sensational reality show.”

“This project is meant to be a portrait of a small town,” Brown continued. “We want to capture the beauty, but also address the reality of the prescription drug problem, an issue that is affecting towns and cities all over the United States.”

While her answer sounded reassuring, Stewart said she still believes the online movie trailer contradicts what the producers are saying.

“Although they tried to twist it around, it is clear after seeing the trailer that it is making fun of this ‘Godforsaken town,’ as they like to call it.”

She said the name “Oxyana” itself is degrading and is afraid it will stick with the town for life.

“I haven’t been damned to this town; God placed me in this community. I chose to stay and raise my family here,” Steward said. “The tight-knit, wholeness of the Oceana community is amazing. The people are genuine. It takes good-hearted, loving people to stay and witness the problems our citizens face in order for a difference to be made.”

Dunne has hopes that his project will make a difference though, he says, because this issue hits close to home for him.

“I grew up the son of a prescription pill addict and I know the depths of what this disease can do to people and do to a place.”

A Google search of “Oxyana” will bring viewers to a website called Kick Starter, where they can watch a two-minute clip from Dunne explaining his documentary and asking for donations to help fund it.

Under the updates section, a teaser trailer shows West Virginia mountains, a four-wheeler driving by, several individuals abusing prescription pills, all while chilling commentary and background music play.

Another Oceana resident, KaNisha Blankenship, posted in the comments section on May 29: “Living in the center of ‘Oxyana,’ I will definitely pledge. I hope you meet your goal and showcase the damage prescription drugs can make.”

Whether local residents agree with the film’s message or not, the project is nearing completion. The project now has nearly 500 backers and met its fundraising goal of $50,000 June 26.

Dunne said the project is still expected to wrap up at the end of the year and he hopes to begin showing it in January.

— E-mail: wholdren@register-herald.com

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