A modern-day Grapes of Wrath, this award-winning documentary is an intimate portrait of job-seekers desperately chasing the broken American Dream to the tiny oil boom town of Williston, North Dakota, and the local pastor who risks everything to help them.
I was really excited to see this documentary particularly because I live on the other side of the state and frequently hear of the problems with the huge rise in the cost of housing, the large influx of human trafficking, of illegal drugs and crime in the western part of North Dakota. The way this documentary was presented, I was really expecting to be outraged at the insensitivity of certain members of the community in Williston, fighting against what seems to be a very good cause, a homeless shelter... Halfway thru the film I found I had a lot of empathy for the members of the church and the community, and some of the overnighters themselves, until finally at the end, I found that one of the poeple I felt little empathy for was the pastor himself. This is a great film, I really didn't expect the outcome. One may also find interesting that one of the main characters in this film was later charged in Williston with multiple felonies relating to gross sexual imposition, human trafficking, terrorizing, felonious restraint and several other charges. In hindsight, It puts a bit more perspective on the many of the fears the community is actually facing.
Heartbreaking. Town overwhelmed by homeless. Pastor tries to do the right thing by the homeless but wrecks a church by failing to build a consensus. Puts himself at odds with the town already struggling to deal with change. It makes a good showing about the need of homeless people in a down turned economy but these things can only be addressed as a community. While a single person may begin the process it must be addressed by a larger group. His own personal gender struggle just added to the layers of difficulty and exhaustion. Not a film if you are looking for a happy ending.
Thousand of desperate employers are moving to North Dakota with the hope to find a job in the oil extract industry. That’s the main plot of The Overnighters, the feature documentary by Jesse Moss, but actually the movie is more focused on capturing the anger and the hostile reaction of the community when the reverend of that town decided to give to that broken poor people, who couldn’t find a job, food and a place to sleep. Behind the invisible camera of Moss, the spectator is an exceptional witness of that fight between a man, with principles and ideals, and a disappointed community that is against him and the newcomers. At the same time is a deeper and more brilliant mediation about the meaning of community and about compassion and kindness.
For all these reasons nobody should be surprised if The Overnighters will be selected as one of the documentaries that will race to the Oscars.
Some reviewers compare it to The grapes of Wrath of S. XXI, and I think there is no better way to describe one of the best documentaries of 2014.
Spoiler Alert! I will be discussing parts of the whole movie here.
I knew almost nothing of this movie going into it other than documentarian Brett Morgen said he thought it was the best doc of 2014 and that it was mind blowing. That piqued my interest and, after seeing this movie, blows my mind.
The great thing about a good documentary is that is makes the commonplace compelling. This one does not. Though it is interesting, I was confused throughout by 1) why this was the subject of a documentary and 2)why should I care about Pastor Reinke? It was obvious from almost the beginning that Pastor Reinke was basking in the attention that the camera was giving him. It was also obvious throughout that many of the scenes in the film were staged but portrayed as capturing a "real" moment. One clunky scene that illustrates both is when Pastor Reinke is shown in his overcoat (winter is coming on) searching through town for one of the "lost souls" who has stayed at his church. He looks in bars, stores, and asks around, all while night is falling. The good pastor finally finds his friend at the bus station and when the Reinke informs him he had been searching all over town, they guy responds with "Why didn't you just call me?" Why indeed?
Another scene that demonstrates Reinke's love of attention, and a scene that makes him even more bizzarre as a protagonist, is when he sees an Amtrak train passing and decides to stop his car, exit his car, and stand on the street waving at it with both arms--just because he likes to wave at trains. Wait, whaa?
I was also confused by the anti-drilling imagery in the film. One image in particular was especially confusing. A load of flyash is being placed on a flatbed trailer. Flyash is a byproduct of burning coal, not in any way related to oil. It's also evidence of how coal is becoming cleaner and better for the environment, not more destructive. Flyash, which used to be ejected into the atmosphere, is now collected instead and sold as a key ingredient in making better road mixes. Its use in the film is mystifying.
But back to Reinke. Another thing that stood out to me about him is that he never has pauses in his speech. Normally people have an "um" or a "sort of" or a "like" or any other natural speach filler when they are extemporaneously conversing and trying to collect their thoughts. He never stops talking! To me this was jarring. I'm not sure if this is a talent of his or if he had things that well rehearsed before talking.
Finally, his bombshell at the end was only surprising in that it had nothing to do with the rest of the film. It is unfortunate that the filmmaker would choose to show such an intimate and personally devastating moment in Mrs. Reinke's life. I will leave it at that so as not to spoil too much of the film for those who haven't seen it.
This film was good in that it shows the reality of an oil boom and the difficulties communities face when an influx of people, desirable and otherwise, overrun their ablilty to accomodate them.
A gritty and relentless portrait of the real America that most people never see. Without judgement the film shows how people deal with the stress of living in modern America where no place is off limits to the failure of our social contracts.
This is required viewing for anyone who wants an unvarnished look at how people are motivated to do both right and wrong and the consequences of those actions.