Jesse Moss didn’t go to North Dakota to make a film about the homeless problem that the oil boom brought with it. But when he heard about Pastor Jay Reinke’s program to house people who migrated to his small town of Williston, ND in search of work, he knew he’d found a story he wanted to tell. The juxtaposition of a man living his religious conviction and the hostility he encountered for doing so from his congregation, neighbors, and the media is a specific story, but it has trenchant and universal implications about how we really treat one another while espousing noble sentiments. It is more than just though-provoking, it’s provocative. It’s also a striking portrait of a man torn apart by trying to do the right thing, and maintaining his compassion and humility.
When I spoke with Moss on October 26, 2014, we discussed what it was like to be there at the most difficult moments in a person’s life, rational preparation and analysis, with surrendering to the moment. The perfect example of which comes late in the film when an angry woman goes after Moss himself with a broom. He also described what film alone can’t capture, corporate responsibility for disrupting a town’s economy, the power of film to effect social change, and the place of second chances in this country.
THE OVERNIGHTERS is documentary about Reinke’s making the Christian decision to be his brother’s keeper by opening his church and its parking lot to the job seekers who have come to Williston, ND to find work in the oil field, but have not found either a job or a place to stay. Thereby becoming the overnighters of the title. Pastor Jay is following his religion’s directive to love and serve his fellow man, but the church’s members, the neighbors, and eventually the town’s newspaper take a dim view of the people so in need of help, forcing the clergyman and his family to defend their position in the face of increasingly hostile reactions. The situation becomes a lesson in religion in theory and practice, and the effect that a corporate boom has on a town that is unprepared for the economic and social ramifications. The film won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance. Moss’s previous documentaries include WILLIAM KUNTSLER: DISTURBING THE UNIVERSE, and RATED R: REPUBLICANS IN HOLLYWOOD.
Click on the player to the right to listen to the interview.