By Wendy Holdren
Amid all the talk and controversy about the documentary “Oxyana,” one Beckley resident had the chance to view the film for herself at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
Megan Constantino, a lifetime Beckley resident, said she left the completely packed theater feeling heartbroken, but hopeful.
“I encourage others to watch it and formulate their own opinion. It will make them sad and it will make them angry, but hopefully it will encourage many to step up and help find solutions.”
She described the documentary as “informational,” but “sensationalized.”
Director Sean Dunne filmed for 21 days in Wyoming County last year to capture the devastating effects that prescription drug abuse can cause for a small town.
“He definitely set out to create a portrait of a drug-ridden town in his eyes,” Constantino said.
Many of those interviewed were addicts or family members of those who were victims of addiction. Dunne shows the addicts’ highs and lows, as well as actual footage of them shooting prescription medication into their veins.
“You could hear people in the crowd cringing and see people turning their heads away,” Constantino said.
In addition to addicts and their families, she said a local dentist, a Raleigh General Hospital doctor, and former Wyoming County Prosecuting Attorney Rick Staton were interviewed.
She said no commentary is made during the film from any of the producers or directors; the interviewees were given the stage.
While she encourages everyone to see the film, she said she does not believe it was quite fair and balanced.
“There were a few scenes when it painted the typical, negative portrait that we often receive. The folks he spoke with, some of them did speak with thicker accents and used curse words. It did show many unhealthy activities that not all of us do.”
While many West Virginians, especially those from Oceana, are concerned about how others will perceive the state and town, Constantino said one viewer of the film voiced concern about how the film will portray America on an international level.
“I thought it was interesting that someone was upset not only for West Virginia, but were curious to see if it will have a ripple effect on the international stage.”
Dunne answered the viewer’s concern by reiterating what he set out to do in the first place — to paint a picture of a real epidemic in our country, especially in small-town America.
“I don’t live in Oceana, but Oceana just happens to unfortunately be the ‘star’ that this producer drove through and documented what he saw and what it looked like to him,” Constantino explained.
She said she hopes this film will help create a dialogue to start a positive change.
“As we touched back down into Charleston, I thought, ‘What can I do as an average citizen to help?’ ‘How do I help?’ ‘What can I do?’ I think no one can deny there is a problem, the statistics are there, but I hope that it will help create a positive change.”
While many people have been quick to judge the documentary based on the trailer, Constantino said the film is much deeper and covers many more angles than the trailer conveys. “I encourage everyone to see it.”
She said two people who stood out in the film in her mind were a pregnant girlfriend of an addict and a mother who is trying to get her son to go to rehab.
“I cried during that part because you could tell her heart was breaking.”
Constantino said she understands why residents are upset without seeing the film though, as it does paint a horrible picture of a town they love.
“I think the purpose of this film was to show the drug epidemic that our country faces and all the facets that go with it, like the underground economy and the crime. He definitely shows how when an economy slows down, how it has a ripple effect on other aspects of a local culture.”
The economy has certainly slowed down in many small towns in West Virginia with the downturn of the coal industry.
Constantino said the film begins with a dentist from Oceana talking about coal and how many years ago, the Appalachian men and women owned the mineral rights. For many generations, the people have grown leery and untrusting of outsiders, the dentist said.
“I thought that was interesting how it explained how things happened in the past.”
One question she wanted to ask Dunne, but did not have the opportunity, is whether he spoke with elected officials, such as the mayor of Oceana, the sheriff, or even senators and congressmen.
“If so, how did that interaction go? I’m just curious to see if they reached out to them and if they didn’t, why?”
Regardless, Constantino said she would like to know what our officials have to offer in terms of a solution.
“I’m curious to know what our elected officials and experts have to suggest and offer for the communities. We know there’s a problem, so how do we help?”
While Dunne offered no solution in “Oxyana,” Constantino hopes that viewers will take the film’s message as a call for action.
“Fuel your emotion from the film in a positive way and try to find a solution. It encouraged me to get to know my area a little more thoroughly and not live my life with blinders on.”
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