Oceana, West Virginia, sits squarely in one of God’s blind spots. It’s one of the old coal mining communities that feeds the nation’s insatiable appetite for energy. Set in the middle of unbelievable natural beauty, a beauty that in the last number of years has been marred by the Appalachian scourge of Oxycontin. Life persists, but it’s a living that few Americans could explain or even believe - closer in kind to the world of a medieval plague. Men and women die epidemically. The addicts — who are the vast majority and all nice enough people — sell, scramble, and steal in an economy of nigh-endtimes desperation. Worn down and out by the pills, the mines or the indignity of both, everyone looks twice their own age and is unable to imagine an existence outside of coal, subsidies and prescription narcotics. Things could hardly get darker than in this place called Oceana. Nevertheless, there it is. A little village in the valley of Death, where children are born, groceries are still purchased and festivity is expressed through firearms and poor decision-making. But is this enough to live for? Is it enough to provide anyone with any hope or deliverance? OXYANA is an unflinchingly close focus on the anguish and horrors of a community that the rest of the country would just as soon forget, a nearly Biblical narrative of American forsakenness.
It wasn’t long after I first set foot in Oceana, WV that I knew something wasn’t right. In fact, something was desperately wrong. This was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen, filled with hands down the most honest and welcoming people I had ever met. Yet there it was, a constant and growing hum of anxiety. So we started to ask questions, and we started to get answers, all pointing towards a familiar narrative. Greed that led to overprescribing pharmaceuticals that led to addiction that led to poverty, lawlessness and hopelessness. Each story we’ve heard is more harrowing and haunting than the previous. Here is a place that represents our failures as a country, a microcosm of everything that’s gone wrong with the American Dream. Oxyana. These stories needed to be seen; they needed to be heard. Residents who were once talented, charismatic, hard working, God fearing, normal people have been reduced to nothing by the uncontrollable lure of this pill. There are high school girls with $800/day habits and families, who literally can’t provide food for their children, yet have full prescription bottles. There are former miners who have turned to dealing to make ends meet and pregnant women selling their bodies for another fix. It is a seemingly endless line of people who have lost the will to live.
Sean Dunne makes his feature-film-directing debut with OXYANA. Dunne has directed five previous short documentaries including: The Archive (nominated for an Emmy in 2011), Man in Van, The Bowler, Stray Dawg and American Juggalo (named documentary of the year for 2011 by the website, Short of the Week). Hailed as the “master of fringe Americana” for his ability to realistically capture half-mythical corners of the country, Dunne’s approach to documentary is to give his subjects the ease and opportunity to find their own voices and his viewers the freedom to form their own conclusions.
Colby Glenn is the man with the plan. Motivated by the recent rash of Oxy-related stories in the media and a personal connection to the subject matter, His knack for creativity, leadership skills and financial background got this project off the ground. OXYANA is Colby’s first venture into filmmaking. Colby has worked in the financial industry for over 12 year and is currently a Director at a hedge fund in CT.
Nadine Brown has been working in communication since studying at Pembroke College in Cambridge, England and graduating with a BA in English from UCLA. She has worked on projects including: commercials for XM Satellite Radio, Coca Cola, Nike, Mitsubishi Nissan, Toyota, VW and many more; promos for USA Networks, PBS, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox Family Channel, The Health Network and The Learning Channel; repackaging the classic Three Stooges short films; and six episodes of reality programming for Paxtv. She produced Stacy Peralta’s film The Bones Brigade – An Autobiography, which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
Kathy Gatto is an award-winning editor and dedicated artist. Her work has garnered a variety of PromaxBDA and CTAM Mark awards. Additionally, she counts among her successes several programs in permanent installation at museums around the United States, including: Tribute – the World Trade Center Museum, The Smithsonian Institute, Federal Hall and the World War II Museum. Her documentary work has screened in many international film festivals, including: Silver Docs, IFFB and DOXA. Her most recent film, American Juggalo, was directed by Sean Dunne and won the 2012 Short of the Week Award for Best Documentary and has been viewed over a million times on the Internet. Gatto’s commercial work has included spots for Nike, Microsoft and Ancestry.com. After graduating Magna Cum Laude from film school at Hunter College, she began her career at HBO as an assistant editor. While her roots are in television, her passion is in film, particularly documentary film editing.
Hillary Spera works as a cinematographer on documentaries, music videos, feature films and commercials. Recent work on documentaries includes: Darkon, Alice Neel, The Bowler, American Juggalo and After Tiller, a film about late-term abortion doctors in America that premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Spera has also shot short form content for the New York City Ballet, Sundance Channel and PBS/Nova, and done commercial work for clients like Kellogg’s, Ancestry.com, and Nike’s Road to Gameday campaign starring hockey player Steve Stamkos. Current narrative feature work includes comedy improv feature High Road, directed by Upright Citizen’s Brigade founder Matt Walsh and the recently completed Black Rock, directed by Katie Aselton, which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.