OCEANA, W.Va. - It's a tale of two cities.
In Oceana, hardworking, God-fearing people try to make ends meet with what they have. As in many West Virginia coal mining communities, production in Wyoming County isn't what it used to be. But there is hope.
In Oxyana, drugs have precipitated the slow decay of a small, struggling town. There are drugs. There are prostitutes. There are dead bodies in pools. There's the inevitable sense that nothing can stop the runaway train that is prescription pill abuse.
Both are true. Both are false.
Critics herald a documentary film chronicling the worst in this isolated town as a gritty look at a larger problem. Residents decry a film most haven't seen as the parachuting cheap shot all too familiar to West Virginians.
Both are right. Both are wrong.
There is a common thread between the perceptions and realities of the town: There are problems. Residents hope a town hall meeting, outreach programs and awareness will help the county find solutions. It won't be easy.
Film and reception
Last summer, documentary filmmaker Sean Dunne came to Oceana for a project. He had received more than $50,000 through the crowd-funding website Kickstarter to look at the town's problem with a highly addictive prescription painkiller called OxyContin.
He called the resulting product "Oxyana," a nickname he had heard for the largest town in Wyoming County. The film earned a spot at the Tribeca Film Festival in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Wall Street Journal said the film was "fascinating in its raw honesty."
Dunne, through a spokesperson, declined several requests for an interview or copy of the film. The spokesperson said he's working on another project while trying to get a distribution deal for "Oxyana." Without such a deal in place, most Oceana residents have seen only trailers or teasers of the film.
In the trailer, one man who says he is 23 years old claims half of the people in his high school graduating class are dead. Another man says he has seen children as young as 8 "shooting up dope," and viewers see a small child wearing nothing but a diaper grabbing a wire fence.
On the film's website, Dunne calls the town beautiful and full of honest, welcoming people. In other descriptions on the website, Oceana is called a "nightmarish dystopia" in the "valley of Death" that sits in "one of God's blindspots."
More than half the residents are addicts, it says. It equates life in the town of roughly 1,400 people "to the world of a medieval plague." The town's story of losing hope is a "nearly Biblical narrative of American forsakenness."
Some people who say they are Oceana residents on social media say they're happy about the film. They say they hope it brings attention that spurs change.
Many Oceana residents don't feel the same and don't even like to use Dunne's name.
"They weren't looking to talk to me really; they weren't looking to talk to the dentist or the doctors and the preachers," said small business owner Stephen Anderson.
"They were looking for the most horrible-looking creatures they could find down here to pimp that trailer out so they could get some money to shoot what they wanted to shoot."
Anderson, 42, is an Oceana native who returned home after years on the road as a golf pro. In 2007 he started a business giving ATV tours of the Hatfield-McCoy trails. He said he gave Dunne and his crew a tour of the mountains. He took them to a local vantage point to catch a sunset.
He said they told him they wanted to capture the natural beauty of the area along with its problems. That didn't prove true in the trailer Anderson saw. He thinks the film will exaggerate the problem and focus on exceptions to the norm.
Gritty but true?
Local dentist Michael Moore appears in tears in the trailer. He says the town has a problem but he loves the people and place too much to leave.