Friday, June 28, 2013

W. Va. residents have different takes on films depicting drug problems in their communities

A pair of southern West Virginia counties sit adjacent to each other, and share a common bond -- county-wide painkiller epidemics that have ravaged their communities, and documentaries about their plight. One community has rallied in support of one film, while the other has come together to rally against the other, David Gutman reports for The Charleston Gazette. (Still from "Oxyana" shows James, whose last name is not given, describing how his father killed his mother, his brother and himself in a dispute, likely over prescription drugs)

"Oxyana," which will be released online July 1, "is told primarily through interviews with about a dozen drug addicts and recovering addicts in Oceana," in Wyoming County, Gutman reports. "Hollow," which was released online June 20, "shows McDowell County through the eyes of its residents, many of whom were given cameras to tell their own stories."

West Virginia has the nation's highest rate of death from drug poisoning, according to data from 2010 from the Centers for Disease Control, Gutman reports. McDowell County has gone from one of the country's richest counties, when coal was booming in the middle of the 20th century, to one of the country's poorest. It has lost nearly 100,000 residents since 1965, and has the nation's worst death rate for prescription-pill overdoses.

Elaine McMillon at a screening Saturday in Welch
Still, McDowell County residents are mostly happy with "Hollow," which was directed by Elaine McMillon, who grew up in nearby Logan County, and spent more than a year filming her movie, Gutman reports. Linda McKinney, who runs a food bank in Welch and is featured in the film, told Gutman, "Elaine allowed us to tell our story. I was born and raised in McDowell County and McDowell County has been good to us. Elaine came in and became part of our family, she didn't come in with an agenda."

McMillon told Bill Archer of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph that people in McDowell County tell their stories with heart. "I think West Virginians are natural storytellers," she said. "When someone starts telling you a story, they’ll tell nine stories before their through.” Despite now living in Boston, she said  “I’ll never disconnect from this community. I love these people. They’ve adopted me as one of their own. I have many friends here.” (Read more)

Residents of Oceana don't feel the same about "Oxyana" filmmaker Sean Dunne, who spent three weeks filming his movie, which depicts one person claiming half their high school class is dead from overdoses, or another saying 70-80 percent of residents have Hepatitis C.  D.J. Morgan, a local lawyer who organized a town meeting to fight the film, said "Mr. Dunne spent three weeks filming and he used those three weeks to try to define our town. Today, we start to define ourselves on our own terms."

Renee Bolden, who lives in Wyoming County but was born in McDowell County and founded the McDowell County Historical Society, told Gutman "As far as 'Oxyana,' Sean Dunne just set out to exploit the people that he interviewed in that movie. And 'Hollow' was the exact opposite of that. The stories were told by the people . . . it just showed how the people here have lived." (Read more)

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