‘The Overnighters’ reveals effects of N.D. oil boom
January 18, 2014
The oil boom town of Williston, N.D., has estimated that its population has doubled since 2010 as itinerant workers flock to the state in the hopes of six-figure salaries. What many don’t know is that getting a job is tougher than it’s sold as, and housing is both scarce and expensive.
Jesse Moss’ film "The Overnighters" follows the compassionate quest of Pastor Jay Reinke, who takes it upon himself to house the many itinerant workers who have no place to stay. Moss stayed and slept on the floor of Reinke’s Concordia Lutheran Church for six months, documenting the struggles of the pastor and the workers.
"The moment I set foot in this church I thought this was extraordinary that these guys who were here had gotten off the bus that day with a bed roll and nothing in their pocket and they were just desperate to work," Moss said.
Reinke’s efforts on behalf of the itinerant workers, however, did not go without criticism. Some of the workers came to Concordia’s doorstep with criminal pasts and rough dispositions, and Reinke began to come under fire from many in the community and even his own congregation.
Moss, who said he came to North Dakota on "a wing and a prayer," found both the selfless giving of Pastor Reinke and the raw determination of the itinerant workers as his inspiration to continue filming in Williston.
"I’m interested in a human-level look at what the real experience is for people who come up here looking for opportunity and redemption," Moss said.
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"The Overnighters" follows Reinke and the workers in their environments both inside and outside the church.
One character Moss follows, Michael, an electrician from Georgia, has temporarily left behind his wife and child in order to support them. Another is Keegan, a young man from Wisconsin who came to North Dakota because there were no job prospects in his hometown.
"I thought that, if anybody could make it, [Keegan] could make it," Moss said. "Many of these guys, they might be barely holding on to the last rung of the ladder, but they’re going to try and they’re looking to work."
As the film tracks Reinke’s challenges, viewers begin to see what he refers to as the difference between his public and private self. Exuding compassion and joy in church and in the community, Reinke struggles with the effects of his compassion at home.
Moss found Reinke a "compelling and complicated" character who is both self-aware and self-critical.
"I just felt he was very human. I have trouble with films of people who are held up as martyrs," Moss said. "He said, ‘No one has pure motives,’ although he could easily hold himself up as the hero."
The community begins to see him as the opposite, however, as the film progresses. As Williston residents disparage what they see as Reinke’s misplaced compassion, tensions rise in Concordia’s congregation, the Williston community, the Overnighters program and the Reinke family.
"It was a very intense place and the story just went [along]," Moss said. "As things started to fall apart, it got more and more dramatically and emotionally intense. Relationships were fraying and the stakes got higher."
"The Overnighters" is one of 16 films in the 2014 Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Documentary Competition category and will screen:
Friday, Jan. 17, at 3 p.m. at the Temple Theatre, Park City.
Saturday, Jan. 18, at 8:30 a.m. at the Prospector Square Theatre, Park City.
Saturday, Jan. 18, at 9 p.m. at the Salt Lake City Library Theatre, Salt Lake City.
Tuesday, Jan. 21, at noon at the Sundance Resort Screening Room, Sundance Resort.
Wednesday, Jan. 22, at 8:45 p.m. at the Library Center Theatre, Park City.
Friday, Jan. 24, at 9:30 p.m. at Redstone Cinema 1, Park City.