The Overnighters: A 2014 American Documentary Film
This was the official website for the 2014 American documentary film, The Overnighters. The content below is from the site's archived pages as well as from outside sources.
The film is supported by the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund, the Catapult Film Fund and Impact Partners. Director Jesse Moss was awarded a Summer 2013 Fellowship from the MacDowell Colony.
The Overnighters is feature documentary directed by Jesse Moss.
The film premiered in the US Documentary Competition at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. It was awarded the Special Jury Prize for Intuitive Filmmaking.
Desperate, broken men chase their dreams and run from their demons in the North Dakota oil fields. A local pastor risks everything to help them.
The film will be released theatrically by Drafthouse Films in Fall 2014.
Sundance (Winner: Special Jury Prize), True/False (Closing Night Film), Miami (Winner: Grand Jury Prize), Full Frame (Winner: Inspiration Award), Tribeca, Hot Docs, San Francisco, Boston, Minneapolis, Dallas, Wisconsin
Short Review Quotes:
"riveting...superior documentary filmmaking" The Hollywood Reporter
"powerful... Steinbeckian...an indelible snapshot of a despairing moment in American history" Variety
" devastating... one of the most remarkable examples of layered non-fiction storytelling
to come along in some time" Indiewire
"It will leave you stunned...starkly bleak and devastatingly humane,
and an indelible American documentary" The Playlist
"remarkable... magnificent" Filmmaker Magazine
"fascinating... a standout documentary at Sundance 2014" Movie City News
Produced, Directed and Photographed by Jesse Moss
Produced by Amanda McBaine
Edited by Jeff Gilbert
Original Music by T. Griffin.
A Mile End Films Production in association with Al Di La Films and Impact Partners. The film was supported by the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and the Catapult Film Fund.
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Theatrical Booking & Press Enquiries:
Sumyi Kong Antonson
Sundance Film Review: ‘The Overnighters’
Variety Chief Film Critic Justin Chang
JANUARY 25, 2014
Jesse Moss' powerful documentary observes a North Dakota town that has seen a massive influx of aspiring oil-field workers in recent years.
The difficulties of helping one’s fellow man in post-recession America are scrutinized with heartrending intimacy in “The Overnighters,” director Jesse Moss’ powerful documentary portrait of a North Dakota town that has seen a massive influx of aspiring oil-field workers in recent years. Our entry point into this modern-day Steinbeckian parable is through Jay Reinke, a Lutheran pastor who decided to open his church doors to provide these laborers with shelter, and who becomes as complex and thorny a film subject as any of the issues examined here: the challenge of community, the limits of compassion and charity, and, above all, the uncertainty of the future. And as behavior is often metaphor, a scene in which a woman who can't pay her mortgage refuses to hock her valuable but coveted silver statement ring. Jewelry is not abundant in this world of misery, and the appearance of it to make this point about our humanity was powerful. With critical support, this tough-minded, admirably unresolved film should have no trouble courting further festival play and art house attention.
Since the controversial technology known as fracking was introduced there in 2008, North Dakota has become the nation’s second largest oil-producing state (second only to Texas) and has witnessed an appreciable spike in employment and population. The unlikely epicenter of this rapid growth is the city of Williston, located in an especially oil-rich region in the western part of the state, where people pour in from all over the country in search of work. Whether they find it or not, many of them seek shelter at the nearby Concordia Lutheran Church; setting up camp beds and sleeping bags around the building, these migrant workers — most of them men — form a makeshift community where compensatory donations are appreciated but not required, though church attendance is strongly encouraged.
“It does amaze me that giving people floor space is provocative,” Reinke muses early on, a humanizing moment that provides a sense of his unassuming hospitality as well as his disarming, sometimes sarcastic sense of humor. For Reinke, serving the community is a simple matter of will, determination and common sense. Not everyone else agrees; members of the congregation begin to feel unsettled by the presence of so many unfamiliar faces, some of whom have criminal records. When a Montana schoolteacher is found dead in Williston in 2012, allegedly at the hands of two men from Colorado, the city’s natural distrust of outsiders is further inflamed.
But Reinke remains an outspoken champion of the Overnighters program, whether attending city council meetings to protest a proposed ban on RVs in the neighborhood, or going door-to-door and inviting the locals to get to know the strangers in their midst. He acknowledges early on that much of his ministry comes at the expense of time with his supportive but long-suffering wife, Andrea, and their children, a truth that will become only more pronounced as the film progresses.
Moss (who previously directed the documentaries “Full Battle Rattle” and “Speedo”) filmed by himself in Williston between 2012 and 2013, no doubt realizing that a patient, observational, one-man-crew approach would be the easiest way to win trust and gain access to the Overnighters’ stories. Their experiences are revealed in stray fragments (edited coherently if judiciously by Jeff Gilbert); among those we meet are Alan Mezo, an ex-con from Spokane, Wash., who has since cleaned up his act and helps Reinke run the Overnighters program; Keegan Edwards, from Antigo, Wis., who’s trying to support his girlfriend and baby son; and Keith Graves, a truck driver and family man from Los Angeles. Not sure what the significance, if any, is of the large number of Maryland University sweatshirts worn by the townspeople. Since this location is very far from Maryland, there must be a pocket of MU alumni in Spokane. I bring this up because every little detail in the observation might actually be meaningful, and the University's image is reflected in the behavior of the people wearing their clothing. For instance, as a dog lover, I always am aware if there are any in a documentary like this. Did you notice who had dogs. I think the way people treat their animals says a lot about them as a person. Even if yo don't have a lot of money. there are affordable dog beds to be had for the four footed member of the family. I find it humbling that many people who are really struggling often will have a dog as a companion. I wonder if the good folks of Concordia would have been even more upset if dogs had been given shelter as the church along with their owners. Or perhaps the dogs would have been accepted and taken in by the locals more readily than the out of luck men, woman, and children who ended up in North Dakota desperately looking for work.
In a film concerned with the everyday fabric and texture of these men’s hard-scrabble lives, the primary source of narrative conflict is Reinke’s decision to move Graves, a registered sex offender, out of the church and into his own home — all the better to avoid the prying eyes of the Williston Herald, which has written a series of negative stories about the Overnighters program. But although Reinke and his family make clear they don’t consider Graves a threat, the move backfires, angering one of their other guests and only intensifying the media scrutiny — at which point “The Overnighters,” an initially inspiring portrait of one man truly living out the Christian mandate to love thy neighbor, becomes a veritable illustration of the notion that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
In ministering to others, Reinke repeatedly speaks from a place of personal brokenness and deep spiritual need, humbly identifying with the weary and heavy-laden. It is Moss’ accomplishment to probe the depths of that brokenness, in Reinke and in those he deals with; with startling emotional force, the film reveals how quickly the strongest bonds of friendship can be frayed and broken, and how a community presumably ruled by compassion and vulnerability can nonetheless breed resentment and betrayal. Even as the Overnighters program is attacked from without, it now threatens to destroy itself from within.
As Moss’ camera follows Reinke around Willingston — trying to evade a nosy reporter, sitting down with Graves for a discussion that quickly turns heated, and at one point having a gun pointed at him — the pastor becomes a figure of ever rougher and richer human dimensions. Never less than admirable in his conviction and willingness to serve those in need, he can also be overbearing, arrogant and harshly judgmental, or at least open himself up to accusations of such. It all builds to a startling climactic admission that leaves the viewer with no shortage of questions (the answers to which are somewhat frustratingly withheld), but also considerable insight into the mindset of a man whose altruistic impulses, and whose determination to accept people as they are, stem from deep personal wounds.
Lensed with a complete absence of frills that perfectly suits its honest, unvarnished tone, “The Overnighters” presents an indelible snapshot of a despairing moment in American history, as men abandon homes, families and dreams to stake their claim in an ever-shrinking land of opportunity. Parallels to the 19th-century gold rushes or the Dust Bowl migration of the ’30s are very much there for the taking, but Moss’ film is very much about how we live now — whether we choose to dwell in peace with or in fear of our neighbors, and whether we recognize that the fates of the affluent and the impoverished are inextricably bound together. Or, as Reinke himself says after hearing the poignant, painful testimony of a drifter who has come under his roof: “You and I are more alike than we are different.”
Sundance review: ‘The Overnighters’
Tribune Staff First Published Jan 25 2014
**** (four stars)
Christian charity collides with human frailty in the documentary "The Overnighters," one of the most beautiful and haunting movies at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. In the oil-boom town of Williston, N.D., desperate men arrive in search of work but find no housing available. The only place to go is the local Lutheran church, thanks to the pastor, Jay Reinke, who defies his parishioners and neighbors by letting these men sleep in the church or its parking lot. Alas, Pastor Reinke must deal with the troubles of the men he's helping — broken families, drug problems, past crimes — and in so doing neglects his family. Director and one-man camera crew Jesse Moss follows Reinke in intimate scenes as the clergyman tries to keep his ministry and his life from falling apart. Every moment, including a surprise ending, will bring tears to your eyes.
The Overnighters: Sundance Review
The Hollywood Reporter1/23/2014 by David Roone
A scenario with present-day echoes of “The Grapes of Wrath” yields perceptive insights into the way we view outsiders.
Jesse Moss’ riveting documentary follows the migration of workers lured to North Dakota by the oil rush, and the uneasy welcome that awaits them there, with one man determined to be the exception.
The Great Recession has given rise to an infinite number of shattering new American narratives, and documentarian Jesse Moss has locked onto an uncommonly affecting one in The Overnighters. An evocative real-life Steinbeckian tale of a frontier boomtown and the desperate souls who flock there praying for a fresh start, this is a penetrating examination of issues pertaining to poverty, class, social stigmatization, religion and even sexuality. Compassion and community are key themes of a sharply observed film that provides a sobering illustration of the tenuousness of stability in 21st century America.
The jumping off point for Moss was the discovery that since hydraulic fracturing technology was introduced in 2008, the resulting oil boom has made North Dakota the country’s fastest growing economy. Driven from their home states by soaring unemployment, bankruptcy and foreclosures, tens of thousands of men have migrated there for well-paid jobs in the oil fields, often forced to separate from their families.
Moss leaves aside the controversies surrounding fracking for others to debate. He also stays away from the widely reported explosion of macho roustabout behavior in an area where the ratio of men to women has warped radically, fueling domestic and sexual violence and prostitution.
Instead The Overnighters explores a humanistic drama about men who have fallen through the cracks and are scrambling to get back in the system. Moss settles on an ideal microcosm in the small town of Williston, where the population has doubled since 2010. While jobs are plentiful, housing is scarce; rents have tripled or quadrupled in recent years. Given that a local address is an oil company employment requirement, the catch-22 situation leaves the more vulnerable of the new arrivals in limbo, sleeping in cars or RVs or on a church floor.
Pastor Jay Reinke is the film’s fascinating central figure, converting the Concordia Lutheran Church each night into a makeshift shelter despite mounting opposition from his congregation, neighbors, town officials and the media. The pastor’s wife is supportive of her husband’s programs and willing to open her home to his trail of down-and-outs. But even she suggests a degree of forbearance, saying, “Hopefully at some point we’ll transition back to how it used to be.”
Moss captures Reinke’s intense connection to the men by focusing primarily on a half-dozen of these “overnighters,” who stay for varying lengths of time. They range from an 18-year-old with a girlfriend and baby son back in his economically crippled Wisconsin home town, to an older man from Spokane, WA, whose past includes alcoholism, meth addiction and a 16-year prison term. Their stories provide wrenching glimpses of the American Dream constantly expanding and contracting according to shifting circumstances.
Commenting on the caring pastor’s refugee influx, one native of the prairies over-dramatizes her fears for the town, saying, “They rape, pillage and burn, and then they leave.” But the film refrains from taking an overtly judgmental position on the community’s resistance, underscoring how people’s attachment to their church as a safe, familiar environment will instinctively make them feel threatened by an invasion of strangers.
At one point a longtime churchgoer, apparently speaking for many, says they feel used by these men encroaching on their place of worship. But Moss implicitly suggests it’s the men who are being used by towns and corporations that welcome their labor and compensate them financially for it, but give no thought to how the least resilient of the outsiders are expected to live. A single shot of a massive Halliburton warehouse speaks volumes next to images of workers in trailers or unfurnished shacks.
Reinke’s failure to consult the congregation before ushering men with shady pasts into his flock (church attendance being a gently enforced condition of lodging) seems a poor leadership decision. Reports of an uptick in crime feed anxiety, but the real challenge surfaces when the local newspaper publishes a list of registered sex offenders, including more than one overnighter. The escalating complications as the pastor lurches erratically into damage-control mode, alienating some of the men he has helped, give the film dramatic texture as well as moral and ethical complexity.
The filmmaker was a one-man crew during shooting, and yet aside from an amusing moment when a campsite manager assaults him and his camera with a broomstick, his presence is almost undetectable. This allows for what seems like absolute candor from the subjects.
Moss traces the enormous personal cost to Reinke of his crusade, but he avoids depicting him with a Mother Teresa-type gloss. Reinke considers his mistakes and flaws, admitting the guilt of neglect toward his family while openly questioning whether his actions are as selfless as he would like to believe. “What are my motives here?” he asks. When an angered man accuses Reinke of being a deceitful egomaniac, the reverberations of that earlier self-examination return.
Many will anticipate a confessional revelation that comes toward the end of the film, and the director leaves himself open to charges of being manipulative by withholding this information to deploy it for climactic purposes. The development opens up further questions that remain unanswered. It’s understandable that Moss would pull back out of respect for Reinke, though the inclusion of an emotional scene with his wife is sure to make many people uncomfortable, even if she must have signed off on it.
However, irrespective of any qualms that surface, the turnaround in the pastor’s life gives the final section considerable pathos, adding to the film’s powerful sense of human precariousness. To use his own description, Reinke is no less “broken” than the men he has cared for and sheltered. The increasing focus on the pastor’s issues reshapes this into a different movie than the one Moss appears to have set out to make, about the sociological impact of the oil boom. But watching as real-life characters and events evolve in divergent directions is one of the rewards of superior documentary filmmaking, and Reinke's difficulties do ultimately serve to illustrate the ripple effect of the big-picture story.
Fluidly edited by Jeff Gilbert, and shot by Moss with haunting intimacy, The Overnighters almost casually establishes a lingering sense of place, juxtaposing natural beauty against the blight of industry. The score by Brooklyn musician T. Griffin is also highly atmospheric, blending sounds that fit the region – guitar, banjo, harmonica – with somber electronics that reflect the darker veins being explored in this boomtown chronicle.
The film is non-fiction storytelling of remarkable nuance. A lovely touch on the end credits is a series of talking heads showing men who simply say their name and where they come from. They serve as a reminder of the vast sea of humanity passing through this place, and the heartbreaking range of experience these men bring as they grasp for a life of dignity.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (U.S. Documentary Competition)
Sundance Review: Stirring Documentary ‘The Overnighters’ Explores Unemployment Struggles With a Twist You’d Never Expect
IndieWire Eric Kohn Jan 18, 2014
At first galvanizing in its depiction of survival amid dire circumstances, “The Overnighters” transforms into a devastating portrait of communal unrest. Jesse Moss’ verite documentary about the impact of the oil boom in Williston, North Dakota on the local job market, and the controversial priest supporting the lives of the newcomers it attracts, contains one of the most remarkable examples of layered non-fiction storytelling to come along in some time. Though well-made throughout, “The Overnighters” builds from a warm, traditional portrait of the American dream in action to arrive at a shocking finale that redefines its focus. Far from simply giving its subject a hearty pat on the back, “The Overnighters” digs beneath the surface of the idealism he strives to embody and arrives at disturbing truths.
The focus of the story is pastor Jay Reinke, whose Concordia Lutheran Church opens its doors to the various struggling men who pass through town seeking work. “We’re not a shelter,” he tells some newcomers. “This is a place for men to get jobs.” And so they do: Cleanly edited montages capture oil workers buried in their tasks, while a flurry of headlines note the impact of the new arrivals, some of whom make as much as six figures. Instigating a gold rush-level mania, Williston’s job market leads to an oversaturation of drifters, illustrated by the men sleeping on the floors and in the parking lots of Reinke’s church. Elsewhere in town, tents and RV’s indicate the constant presence of nomadic job seekers. The buttoned-up locals grow anxious, particularly after a local woman is found murdered by men believed to have passed through in search of work, and their anxieties naturally arrive at Reinke’s doorstep. “This is not my home anymore,” one woman tells him. “It does amaze me,” he reflects later, “that giving floor space is provocative.”
Moss captures Reinke’s good-natured activism with an unfiltered eye, following the man as he goes door to door trying to convince neighbors to accept the newcomers to no avail. As their complaints grow louder, “The Overnighters” shifts from a traditional overview and becomes a gripping look at the pastor’s own desperation as his livelihood gets threatened from multiple directions. Worrying both for his family and his ideals, Reinke’s good-natured demeanor starts to show signs of greater unease lurking beneath the surface. “The private person is something else,” he observes, pointing to the movie’s shocking final revelation that crystallizes its ideas: While initially a gentle interrogation of Christian dogma, “The Overnighters” expands to a larger investigation of altruism and its roots in private psychologies.
While Reinke is continually the focus of the story, Moss peppers his tale with countless mini-profiles of the broke and desperate men who pass through his church, many of whom routinely call their wives to boast of new opportunities. The town’s promise isn’t an empty one, though it’s ironically threatened by adherents to the same religious principles espoused by the beleaguered priest. A terrific activist persona, he battles to put a valiant foot forward. After requesting that the men staying in his church keep their hair short to quell frightened locals, one of them shoots back, “Did Jesus have long hair?” Reinke doesn’t hesitate: “Jesus didn’t have our neighbors.”
Nor did he have present day technology, which enables Reinke to run background checks on his men and realize he might have more trouble on his hands than he initially realized. Harboring several convicts, including registered sex offenders, Reinke realizes he’s in a tough spot and forced to confront them before the public catches on — but it might be too late. As the prospects of the local dispute threaten to destroy Reinke’s career, the story ingredients slowly thicken, and Reinke’s anxieties pierce a hole in his cheery demeanor. He faces a series of trials in the third act that call into question his intentions from the outset. Among the many other men whose lives Moss outlines, truck driver Keith — whom Reinke initially welcomes into his home — stands out as one of several frustrated men Reinke tries to help and winds up threatening the entire operation. Stuck between an allegiance to his mission and his personal life, Reinke reckons with that duality to devastating effect in the movie’s closing scenes.
It’s clear from the outset that his saintly demeanor belies the priest’s inner demons, but it isn’t until the final image that the cycle of dependency at the root of the narrative comes full circle. In retrospect, Reinke faces the same challenges he helps others overcome. “You and I have more in common than you realize,” he tells one lost soul. “I want to be your advocate.” But Moss makes it hauntingly unclear if anyone can provide the same service for the priest himself.
Criticwire Grade: A
HOW WILL IT PLAY? Well-received at the Sundance Film Festival, “The Overnighters” should become a sleeper hit of the festival circuit, though its quiet progression and difficult subject matter severely limit its theatrical prospects. A limited release is almost certain, and it could perform decently in a handful of markets if word of mouth is strong enough.