The Overnighters is like a punch in the gut. I can’t remember the last time a documentary hit me so hard. What’s all the more remarkable is that filmmaker Jesse Moss (who shot this film by himself) had no idea whether his investment of time would pay off. He ventured to Williston, North Dakota in the belief that there had to be a story there: the small community has become a boom town, thanks to fracking, and he reasoned that every boom town in history has yielded colorful and dramatic tales. He was right, but I doubt that he envisioned the way his feature would turn out.
Lured by the promise of high-paying jobs, men have traveled from all over the map to Williston, many of them desperate; at the end of their rope. Some have left families behind, hoping to earn enough money to support them or at least get a fresh start. When they arrive, they learn that most of the jobs are taken. They find themselves without hope—and without homes.
That’s where Lutheran pastor Jay Reinke steps into the picture. He believes that the least he can do is offer the men food and shelter at his church. He has the support of his congregation, at first, but as the itinerant population swells, people start to question his mission and even his motivation. His response is to dig in his heels.
I won’t spoil the movie by revealing more; let’s just say that The Overnighters is layered, provocative, and surprisingly intimate. It reminds us that we shouldn’t rush to judge any individual. We’re all in search of answers; some of us are just luckier than others. After meeting the unfortunate men depicted here—and the troubled pastor who tries to protect them, I feel truly blessed. If ever a film made me think, “There but for the grace of God go I,” this is it.
The Overnighters heads in unexpected directions and builds to a crescendo of emotion. As writer, director, and cinematographer, Jesse Moss deserves tremendous credit for his diligence…and compassion.
Note: Jesse Moss will be appearing with the film this weekend at the NuArt in Los Angeles. For details and information on other bookings around the country, click HERE.