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For some years now, I have been a big fan of the work of Sean Dunne, whose shortform documentaries are not only intelligent and compassionate but also visually accomplished and highly cinematic. Anyone looking to get a sense of Dunne’s talent should check out The Archive, his 2008 debut, or American Juggalo, which he put out last year. (To see all of his work, go to Dunne’s Vimeo page.)

Given my admiration for his shorts, I was very excited yesterday to receive an email from Dunne about the new project he’s working on: Oxyana, his debut feature. He wrote, “I truly believe in the power of good filmmaking. It can make a real difference, I’ve seen that with my other films. I think this is an important film and one that will entertain and enlighten.”

The synopsis for the film — which will be shot by Dunne’s regular d.p., Hillary Spera — is as follows:

Oceana, West Virginia, sits squarely in one of God’s blind spots. It’s one of the old coal mining communities that feeds the nations 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 is easily twice their own age, and unable to imagine an existence outside of coal, subsidies, and prescription narcotics. Things could hardly get darker— or more fucked and implausible— 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.

Oxyana has just launched its Kickstarter campaign, and I certainly hope that Dunne will find the support he deserves. He’s an important voice, and I’m really looking forward to see how he tackles this compelling subject.

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