Monday, November 24, 2014

Review: "The Overnighters"

I went yesterday to watch "The Overnighters" at FilmScene, Iowa City's nonprofit theater. "The Overnighters" is a documentary about the town of Williston, ND, which became overwhelmed by thousands of unemployed men seeking employment within the oil industry. Even though many of these men successfully found work, many others (particularly older men or men with criminal backgrounds) found that employment opportunities were not as plentiful as hoped. On top of that, there are few affordable housing options for this onslaught of migrants.

Pastor Jay Reinke ends up creating the Overnighter program at Concordia Lutheran Church. Dozens of men end up sleeping night after night in this makeshift shelter until other housing options become available. Many more end up sleeping in their vehicles in the church parking lot.

The film begins several months into the program. Pastor Reinke is trying to juggle his responsibilities to his family and to his church with his desire to provide housing and outreach to these Overnighters. Meanwhile, the church is hemorrhaging members and the City Council is in the process of passing an ordinance to ban residents from sleeping in RVs within town for more than a month. Additionally, the newspaper is stirring things up with emotionally-charged articles about the migrants and the resulting increase in crime.

"The Overnighters" does a good job of bouncing back and forth from hope to despair. Pastor Reinke is obviously emotionally connected to his community's visitors -- much to the detriment of his neglected family. The documentary follows a handful of the men. It's wonderful to watch men secure employment for the first time in years. But how sad is it that they're earning anywhere from $25,000-$40,000/year and still cannot do much better than live in RVs on the outskirts of town?

And then there is the sex offender whose criminal background is hidden by Pastor Reinke so that he doesn't jeopardize the larger Overnighters program. What happens when his background is ultimately exposed to the community?

I won't give away everything, but nobody leaves "The Overnighters" unscathed -- not even Pastor Reinke and his wife. It's clear throughout the movie that Pastor Reinke has poor pastoral boundaries and those poor boundaries eventually lead to something horrible -- seemingly out from left field, but when you look back at the movie it makes more sense.

Check out this link for a listing of the film's current schedule.

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