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'Oxyana' director 'can't pull any punches,' despite riling Oceana

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sean Dunne, who directed the critically acclaimed but locally despised documentary "Oxyana," is not surprised at the outrage his film has provoked, but he hopes Oceana residents will see it with an open mind and not blame him for shining a light on a serious problem.

"We were realistic that we were going to ruffle some feathers. We understood how sensitive a subject it was," Dunne said Thursday. "Now that people will have the opportunity to see the film, I think that the debate will change a little bit from like a shoot-the-messenger type situation to a debate about what this issue is and how we can help out."

Residents of the Southern West Virginia town will get a chance to see the film when it is released at www.oxyana.com on Monday.

"Oxyana" premiered in April at the Tribeca Film Festival, where Dunne won an award for best new documentary director, but it has not been shown since. Its two-minute trailer and the accompanying promotional material have angered Oceana residents, who accuse Dunne of taking advantage of them.

Among other things, that promotional material referred to the Wyoming County town as "one of God's blind spots," and "a little village in the valley of Death" that is "closer in kind to the world of a medieval plague."

Those statements no longer appear on the film's website.

"We just feel at this point the film speaks for itself and we'd rather have people focus on the message of the film than on the early message of promotional material," Dunne said. "And that's exactly what it was, promotional material. The film speaks for itself."

The film shows drug addicts shooting up on camera and talking frankly about their addictions.

"We can't pull any punches," Dunne said of the decision to show drug use and interview people who were high. "The people who had the courage to be in the film do those things, I think it would be doing them a disservice and I think it would be doing a disservice to anyone who's dealt with addiction in their life in any way to kind of sugar-coat this or not show the realities and the rawness of what this looks like.

"We were trying to do something where we showed the face of addiction, the true realities of what it looks like -- and there's a lot of humanity in there."

Before Thursday, Dunne had not spoken to local news media or responded to criticism since his movie premiered. He said that it would make no sense to respond to criticism before people got a chance to see the film.

"Wouldn't you think it would be a little inappropriate for me to go responding to speculation about what my film could be?" Dunne asked. "It's to be expected that there's a shoot-the-messenger type situation, and I've got a thick skin for it. I'm prepared for those things, but I really just hope that the true message of what we're trying to do gets across."

A lot of the criticism has focused on the fact that prescription drug abuse is a problem nationwide and that Dunne focused only on Oceana.

"I would just say I never said it was only them," Dunne said. "You wouldn't believe how many people I'm hearing tell me that this resembles their hometown in California or in Washington state or you name it, you know. It's really resonated with audiences even outside of West Virginia."

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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