You don't feel good after watching the documentary Oxyana, about a small town in West Virginia that's been plagued by drug addiction. You don't feel happy for the people who hide from the realities of their lives by swallowing, snorting and shooting ridiculous amounts of pain medication, and you definitely don't feel satisfied to see these same people having children while still using -- children they'll neglect and hurt and turn into drug addicts like themselves. The most frightening thing is that Oceana, West Virginia (or Oxyana, as its citizens now call it) isn't the only small town suffering through its own apocalyptic drug crisis, and it won't be the last. These are the folks who've been hit hardest by a struggling economy, and with limited education and nowhere else to go they've turned to an alternate and debilitating reality that will slowly suck their life away.
This is Oxyana, a devastating portrait of the hopelessness in a town where almost everyone is addicted to drugs. This isn't a documentary where you learn everyone's names and follow various characters while they navigate the different stages of drug addiction. This isn't just another film that preaches about ending the war on drugs, or urges you to write letters to your congressman. This is, essentially, a snapshot of the end of the world -- a brief glimpse inside the personal spaces of those struggling to feed an addiction that's completely taken over, and in most cases ruined, their lives.
Director Sean Dunne won Best New Documentary Director for the film at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, and you can see why. Oxyana is unlike any other documentary I've seen on addiction because instead of attempting to educate or force a specific set of beliefs upon its audience, the film almost feels like you're a passenger on some distorted version of the "It's a Small World" ride at Disneyworld. A great deal of the doc is spent riding through this town, often in slo-mo as if to say this is how most people experience their local travels. Then we pop in to the various trailer parks and rundown, neglected homes of those who live here, occasionally visiting with a rare sober citizen who explains through tears that he won't leave because this is his home and these are the people he loves. "I don't know what to do," he spits out through sobs.
And that's just it -- no one knows what to do. What can you do? If you stop one of the many crooked doctors selling pills to these townspeople, more will just crop up. If you send drug counselors in to try to rescue the town, most people will just relapse once the harsh realities of their low-income lives meet them in the mirror each morning. This is what we've become, and it's unfortunate that even if the right answers do arrive, these people probably won't want to hear them.
This is Oxyana, try not to come back soon.