It seems to be documentary-film week around this place, so let’s roll with it.
A few weeks ago, Dexter first sent me the trailer to “Oxyana,” a new doc about the opiate culture in a West Virginia town called Oceana. The filmmaker, Sean Dunne, was director of “American Juggalo,” and “Oxyana” is his first feature. It seemed worth keeping an eye on.
You get a sense of what it’s about at a molecular level – the heart-stopping beauty of the mountains, the primitive music, and the rural poverty-porn imagery. But a couple of the sound bites brought me up short: The 23-year-old claiming “half (his) high-school class” is dead of overdoses, and the unseen one who claims he’s seen 9-year-old children shooting dope.
Both of these claims, I’d wager, are exaggerations. Evidently there were more. From an interview Dunne did with a West Virginia public-radio reporter:
Lilly: “Also in the documentary, there were people that spouted out percentages, numbers, information about homelessness, overdoses, hepatitis C cases, babies born on methadone and so on. How did you verify that information?”
Dunne: “That’s the thing. This isn’t a film that is meant to be informational in that way. It’s meant to be immersive. It’s meant to show the up close and personal of what drug addiction looks like. These are stories from the people down there. These are their perspectives. These are people dealing with this every day. We didn’t question those things we just we were a vessel to their voice.”
Oh, spare me. Don’t bother me with the facts. Here’s just one of the distortions:
Some of the statistics that went unverified by the production crew included, things like, 70 to 80 percent of people in the town have hepatitis C because of intravenous drug use.
According to the Office of Epidemiology and Prevention Services between 2007 and 2011 Wyoming County saw less than 5 chronic hepatitis C cases.
To me, this is just another version of the cheap reporter’s trick of underlining the most tragic facts in a story with Albomian bombast. Believe me, the horrors of opiate abuse in southern Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia are easily portrayed with simple facts that don’t require passing along whoppers about hepatitis C.
But not everyone does it so well. And when I watched Oxyana, I was bothered by the lack of context and long, languid shots of that dirty old town and its beautiful blue hills.
I sometimes didn’t know what I was watching. Or didn’t know why I was watching what I was watching.
After the film was over, in the Q&A, Dunne spoke of how he went to West Virginia a few times to film, with one trip lasting several weeks (maybe it was a couple of months.)
But how the hell are you going to make a truthful document of a complex problem that’s destroying real lives if you’re skimming the surface, with a few drive-by days of filming?
Yeah, what he said.
I think what has happened is, the technology for this sort of filmmaking is now ridiculously cheap; you can make a beautiful-looking film with a DSLR, consumer-level software and whatever talent you bring to things. But telling a story is not nearly so easy. It requires skill, empathy, intelligence, wisdom and a lot of other things. You can’t do it by just turning your camera on a beaten-up poor West Virginian and letting him or her talk, unchallenged. Calling it “immersive” is just excuse-making.
Oh, am I grumpy today? Maybe so. Here’s some comic relief: Apply for an Indiana marriage license as a same-sex couple? Risk jail:
Currently the state’s electronic marriage license application specifically designates “male applicant” and “female applicant” sections for gathering required background data.
“In Indiana the law clearly states that one man and one woman are the only two who can apply for a marriage license and can have a marriage ceremony performed,” Coffey explained.
Those who were to submit false information on the marriage license could face up to 18 months in prison and a potential fine of up to $10,000.
Don’t think it would happen, but who knows? This is Tippecanoe County we’re talking about.
Is it Wednesday already? Really?