Director Sean Dunne makes his feature directorial debut with Oxyana, a documentary chronicling the demise of a West Virginia mining town in the words of its own residents. Beset by a failing industry and an epidemic of prescription drug addiction, Oceana is the America that the government has left behind. Here, Dunne answers some questions about making the film and the politics behind it.
Oxyana premiered last week at the Tribeca Film Festival. It screens tonight at 7:30 and tomorrow at 3:30. You can watch the trailer here.
Morgan Davies (MD): What drew you to Oceana and the subject matter? How did you decide to make a documentary about what was happening there?
MD: Many of your interview subjects are incredibly honest and share very painful personal stories. How did you build a rapport with the people and community that made them so willing to participate in the film?
SD: We made friends and let them decide for themselves if they wanted to speak with us. One of the first people we interviewed was a man named James whose family was killed over the drug. We sat down with him and he started to tell this insane tale of drugs and coal mining and dealing and murder. I was astonished by his candor. Afterwards he told us that was the first time he was reliving some of this stuff, and it felt therapeutic to get it off his chest.
MD: The film has a very distinct aesthetic throughout, but I was particularly taken by the montage sequences showing the often dilapidated buildings in Oceana. What made you decide to incorporate those sequences in the film, and to shoot the movie in the way that you did?
MD: There are a lot of highly political implications to the content of the film, but you rely exclusively on your subjects’ testimony without verbally editorializing. Did you always know you were going to structure the film this way, or did that grow out of post-production?
MD: Do you think there are any solutions to the drug problem in Oceana, or at least ways out for some of the young people there? What do you believe is the future of the place?
SD: There are always solutions but it's going to take a change in the cultural attitude towards drugs and drug addiction. Us versus them doesn't help anyone in this situation. Hopefully this film can help repair that divide and create an atmosphere that is more sympathetic to those who need help. There is hope for Wyoming County, but it's not the government, or coal mining, or God, the hope is in the people. Addicted or not, these are great people with big hearts, who I think are capable of rising above this. But it has to start with an open mind.