A film about prescription pill abuse in a southern West Virginia community is set for its first free local screening next week.
The West Virginia International Film Festival is sponsoring a free showing of "Oxyana," the project of director Sean Dunne that's gained national acclaim and local ire.
The showing is scheduled for 7 p.m. July 23 at Park Place Cinemas in Charleston, with a panel discussion about substance abuse in West Virginia immediately following, according to a news release from the film festival.
Panelists include state Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Benjamin and Kim Miller, director of development for addiction treatment provider Prestera Center.
In "Oxyana," residents of Oceana and other communities in Wyoming County talk about how abuse of OxyContin and other powerful prescription pain medication have affected their lives. The film is a series of interviews, focusing mainly on people who are currently using the pills or who have battled with addiction in the past.
Nationally, the film has received accolades - Dunne won the best new filmmaker award from the Tribeca Film Festival - for its "raw honesty" in discussing a problem facing many communities. Locally, many residents admit there is a substance abuse problem but believe Dunne exploited the town and exaggerated its problems.
In recently releasing the film online, Dunne pointed out few in the state have actually seen "Oxyana." That's one reason the film festival wanted to bring "Oxyana" to Charleston, said Emmett Pepper, a representative of the festival.
"We are very excited to foster a discussion about this very important issue to our state," Pepper said in an email.
"While the problem is ongoing, we hope that learning about some of the success stories in the state will inspire additional successes in tackling the prescription drug problem here."
Many of the subjects offer conclusions with little evidence to support the claims.
One man says 70 to 80 percent of the county has Hepatitis C because of intravenous drug use. Another says he's 23 years old and half of his graduating class is dead, while a woman says 75 percent of people her age are homeless or live with their parents.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Dunne said the film is supposed to be immersive and not informational. It's supposed to show how those affected by prescription pill abuse view their world.
Pepper said he and others at the festival saw the film before they decided to have a public showing. They agreed Dunne allows the film's subjects to tell their own story. Pepper said he thinks the people in the film "seem to be presenting the things they say as subjective, not objective, facts."
The film festival didn't want to show the film "in a vacuum" so they scheduled the panel discussion, Pepper said.
"It is our hope that the panel discussion will give room to address statements made in the film that are out of step with the experience of those dealing with prescription drug addiction and abuse," Pepper said in an email.
"One thing that I think everyone in the film and probably everyone in the state would agree on is that this is a serious problem that needs to be addressed."
Several resident of Oceana agree the film has sparked a conversation about trying to address the prescription drug abuse problem in their community. Some did not want to have a public viewing of the film because they thought it would show support for Dunne.
Pepper said the festival is always willing to support filmmakers who are willing to take on difficult issues like those addressed in "Oxyana." The festival is paying a fee in order to show the film. Pepper said it was a relatively small amount, and the festival organizers didn't want a ticket price to prevent anyone from seeing the film.
"The film is too important not to show for free," Pepper said.
Seating is first come, first served, but Pepper anticipates the 300-seat theater should accommodate everyone.
Those on the panel will watch the film, reflect on issues raised in the film and discuss solutions. Pepper said the festival is working on recruiting more panelists; they hope to find a recovering addict as well as someone who appears in "Oxyana."
Dunne is not able to attend because of time and financial constraints, Pepper said. The festival wanted to show "Oxyana" while it was fresh in people's minds, he said. Dunne was not available this month, and the festival didn't have the money to pay for his travel or lodging, Pepper said.
More information about the showing is available at wviff.org. The film is available for purchase or digital rental at oxyana.com.
Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher @dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.
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