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Review: ‘The Overnighters’ takes redemption to the extreme Special

Posted Nov 8, 2014 by Sarah Gopaul
‘The Overnighters’ is the captivating story about a series of despondent men trying to turn their luck around in the North Dakota oil fields and the pastor risking everything to help them do it.
Pastor Jay Reinke addresses his charges in  The Overnighters
Pastor Jay Reinke addresses his charges in 'The Overnighters'
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When the land stops bearing fruit, it’s time to pack up the wagon and move on. This was the maxim in the early days, before the industrial revolution, when a barren countryside could mean death for a family. Times have changed, but many American families find themselves in similar situations. The recession hit some communities harder than others and they are taking longer to recover. With an unemployment rate in the double-digits, moving to another, more prosperous state seems like a legitimate solution. The Overnighters chronicles one pastor’s attempts to assist the displaced, regardless of the effects on his church.
The modern day gold rush is a fracking boom in North Dakota. Hundreds, if not thousands, of men flock to Williston hoping to benefit from the state’s prosperity. Some of these men are sprinting toward opportunity in an attempt to improve their lives and the lives of the families. Others are running away from shady pasts, trying to escape their demons. Unequipped to handle so many migrants, the county is bursting at the seams. New arrivals often find themselves without a place to stay, living out of their cars or if their lucky, at the Concordia Lutheran Church. Pastor Jay Reinke launched “The Overnighters” program a couple of years earlier to help job seekers stay off the streets. At its peak approximately 50 men resided at the church, mostly sleeping on the floors, and the local community started losing its patience.
Director Jesse Moss is welcomed into the makeshift shelter, where he spent 18 months collecting footage for the film. He tapes entrance interviews as travellers explain their situations and why they have come to Williston. Many come from towns with few opportunities for work. They’ve left their families back home until they can afford to have them join them. Other men are escaping a life of drugs and crime, wanting a fresh start. Regardless of their reasons, these men’s desperation is written all over their faces.
In the meantime, Reinke is dealing with a public backlash for his generosity. The church’s neighbours are concerned about their safety and their anxieties are being regularly validated by troubling news articles. The local newspaper has an axe to grind, printing front page stories that denounce the program and the men using it. It links the Overnighters to increased crime in the area and an increase of sexual offenders.
Reinke spends the majority of his time attending to these men and away from his family who still support his work. He tries to convince his neighbours and parishioners that he “knows” the occupants and they don’t pose a danger to the public. But as he continues to stick his neck out, risking everything, one begins to wonder if there is anything else motivating his kindness.
Moss weaves together an excellent documentary that on a higher level is a reflection of the post-recession landscape; but on a baser level, captures one man’s boundless desire to help his fellow man.
Director: Jesse Moss
Starring: Jay Reinke