Film » Film Features

Film Spotlight: The Overnighters

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You'll only get one chance to catch The Overnighters next week. It's an intimate documentary portrait of the fracking boom in North Dakota and a Lutheran pastor who causes a rift in his community by housing down-and-out prospective workers in the corridors and parking lot of his church. The film, which won the special jury award for intuitive filmmaking at the Sundance Film Festival, screens at the Capitol Theatre Tuesday, Nov. 25, at 7:30 p.m.

Though it's unclear by what metric or for which qualities the "intuitive filmmaking" award is bestowed, it's enough to know that The Overnighters is extremely well-crafted (if somewhat tantalizing in the end). The boomtown narrative is a classically American one, and here the oil boomtown story is told vis-a-vis the anxiety and outright fear of new, strange communities. Director Jesse Moss said he viewed the film as "a migrant story," particularly in the America of today, one animated by immigration policy debate.

In Williston, N.D., the migrants are mostly domestic — full-blooded American men, often with troubled pasts. They are outcasts, scorned and feared by the white-bread Protestant community there. What all these morally upright locals did before Halliburton & Co. arrived remains a mystery.

Pastor Jay Reinke, whose saccharine Christianity would almost be obnoxious if it weren't so earnest, is caught in the crossfire and crosshairs of the small town unease. His "overnighters" program is the film's (and town's) central point of discord. Many of the men Reinke welcomes into his church and his home have lengthy, colorful criminal records. (Say what you will about oil tycoons: They'll pay anybody six figures if it means the more efficient extraction of Earth-killing sludge and the ballooning of their own executive compensation)

Thus, in the film's thematic crucible bubbles not only the debate about the merits of fracking —lots of high-paying jobs for earnest, hardworking men vs. the cold, slimy despoilment of nature, basically — but also American communities' ability to accept, welcome and forgive.

This is the Christian ideal of loving thy neighbor dramatized in a literal way. And it's devastating, as seen through the complex struggles of a devout man pushed to the brink by the collision of his moral, familial and legal duties.

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