Sean Dunne’s painkiller-addiction documentary Oxyana, which the Dish spotlighted in April and which won a documentary award at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, has left some residents of Oceana, West Virgina, decidedly unimpressed. Local critics have called the film sensational and raised concerns about its accuracy. Alec MacGillis, who agrees that the town has a serious drug problem, says the filmmaker lays it on a bit thick:
[Oxyana] is, as the promotional materials promised, a hellscape, one that little resembles the bedraggled but not blasted town I passed through on my April visit, a typical deep-Appalachian strip with a Bible bookstore and a medical supply shop and a WIC office and car repair shops and a foot and ankle clinic and a sign advertising for foster parents and another identifying the Afghanistan veteran for whom a small bridge has been named and an AT&T outlet store with the Kindle Fire on sale and, yes, a couple of pharmacies.
Conceding that “an AT&T store isn’t exactly material for a documentary film,” MacGillis considers the film’s objective:
Portraying people and places at the outer edge of despair is a fraught enterprise—finding the line between exposing wrong and suffering without wallowing in it. “Oxyana” is, in a sense, the Appalachian version of the ruin porn we’ve become used to from cities like Detroit. To just toss the images out there, one after another, without sufficient context and perspective, as Dunne has done with the broken people he found in Wyoming County, can start to look awfully gratuitous.