Photo credit: Hilary Spera
2013, 82 minutes
Review by Joshua Handler
The next few reviews marked with "Tribeca Film Festival 2013" means that I saw the films through the Tribeca Film Festival, but did not get to review them.
Oxyana is one of the most horrifying and brave depictions of drug addiction that I have ever seen. It is a fearless documentary that follows the lives of residents of Oceana, West Virginia, a town that has been destroyed by drug addicion, particularly Oxycontin. This film won the Best New Documentary Director and Best Documentary Feature - Special Jury Mention awards at the Tribeca Film Festival and completely deserved them.
Oceana is a town that was described by as resident as being a great place to grow up and raise kids in before being ravaged by drug addiction. Ever since Oxycontin hit the market, though, the town has literally fallen apart. As another interviewee mentioned, the town is in the middle of nowhere and has very limited forms of entertainment; there is no movie theater, sporting arena, etc. All there is for people to do is to abuse drugs to escape their horrible lives.
Oxyana was directed by Sean Dunne and with this film, he created something unique and provocative. The most impressive aspect of his directorial work is that this is not a film that criticizes or looks down upon its subjects. Instead, he takes a non-judgmental approach to the material and simply lets his subjects tell their tragic stories. He shows us the effects addiction has had on families and friends. Many people do not live long and die from drug overdoses.
Dunne does not stint on the detail in Oxyana. He shows the addiction in all of its horror, as he unflinchingly shows people preparing their drug of choice and shooting up. The intimacy that Dunne captures on camera and the trust that his subjects gave him is astounding.
In addition to being completely compelling, Oxyana is gorgeously shot. Cinematographer Hilary Spera captures the atmospheric natural beauty of Oceana in addition to the grit and grime that pervades each scene.
At 82 minutes, Oxyana never wears out its welcome. Documentaries are frequently interesting, but just as frequently too long. Dunne sets out to paint a portrait of a dying town and does so with brevity and clarity. This movie is naturally incredibly depressing and even at its current running time is incredibly hard to sit through. That certainly does not mean that it is not worth going to see. This is a must-see documentary.
Overall, Oxyana is the work of a brave filmmaker who, if there is any justice in the world, should have a long, successful filmmaking career. It is beautifully shot and, at times, brutal to watch, but never less than completely riveting. The story of Oceana is a very important one to tell.