“The Overnighters” at Tribeca Film Festival 2014
“No profanity, come to church, don’t spill coffee on the carpet,” are the rules laid down by Pastor Jay Reinke of the Concordia Lutheran Church in Williston, North Dakota. He provides shelter and food to people who have come from all over the country to, hopefully, find employment in the oil industry. Hydraulic fracturing has resulted in a rich oil field, in or near Williston, and jobs are many. Those who show up are desperate for work. As one man, at the end of his rope, puts it, “I can’t afford to live.”
“The Overnighters” is a highly charged and engrossing documentary about one man trying to apply the concept of “Love Thy Neighbor” to floods of humanity, mostly men, who come to his church. At the center of it all is Pastor Reinke who, right from the start, is a very compelling character. As I’ve said many times in this column, even a documentary has to have great characters. Reinke delivers.
“The Overnighters” is a well constructed piece. It has an intensity that builds. Pastor Reinke is a very complex character. He is a man of incredible faith, but at what point does faith become naivte? Who are these strangers that he welcomes to his community and for whom he vouches without reserve? What could the consequences be for him, his congregants, his town and family? “I don’t say ‘no’ well. Maybe it’s easier to say ‘yes’ and live with the consequences,” he reasons. Could it all be a matter of “No good dead goes unpunished?”
“The Overnighters” reminded me of the excellent 2004 documentary “Farmingville.” “Farmingville” concerned the town of Farmingville, Long Island and how it reacted when 1,500 undocumented Mexican day laborers moved in. In many respects, the issues raised in “The Overnighters” are identical but in a different context. The newcomers in “The Overnighters” are all Americans. They have varied, some shady, backgrounds.
Director and cinematographer Jesse Moss has had incredible access to Pastor Reinke. At times I was amazed that Moss was even allowed to shoot certain sequences, some of which are highly emotional, a few cringe inducing, and all beautifully shot. To have shot something that is as “in the moment” as “The Overnighters” and still have it look this good is truly an accomplishment.