|Williston, North Dakota|
has no affordable housing.
Williston, North Dakota
refuses to help the homeless.
Pastor Jay's church
becomes a homeless shelter.
Williston, North Dakota
is not amused.
Dir. Jesse Moss
Review By Greg Klymkiw
The fine, God-fearing, deeply religious citizens of Williston, North Dakota, do not extend Christian charity to the homeless. They just want to run them out of town. Most of the supposed miscreants and criminals are, in actuality, dirt-poor men of all ages who've left their families, friends and hometowns behind to combat their poverty by taking advantage of the huge fracking oil boom in this otherwise dull, closed-minded little community. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be in Williston never bothered to address what would obviously have become and indeed is an affordable housing shortage. Hundreds of men from all over America have descended upon the bucolic, middle-of-nowhere burgh of Christian fundamentalism and even those who can get jobs, cannot afford to live in Williston. The citizenry do not want outsiders in their community. Outsiders might, after all, be criminals.
But, never fear, these men have a champion in the form of Pastor Jay Reinke, a caring, intelligent and deeply committed man of God who decides to open the doors of his parish to the homeless. With the assistance, though mostly support of his wife and children Reinke transforms the Concordia Lutheran Church into a massive homeless shelter.
The Overnighters is the title the powerful, moving, often harrowing and at times, deeply disturbing feature documentary by Jesse Moss. It also happens to be the name of the program Reinke runs, for by day, as many as 60 men are either working or looking for work and overnight, they're sleeping on floors, in pews, in storage rooms and for the many who can't get in due to Reinke's desire to avoid overcrowding, they sleep outside in their cars in the church parking lot. The idiots on the Williston municipal council have banned overnight parking on ALL city streets. Gotta love that down-home Christian charity.
Director Jesse Moss leaves no stone unturned in telling this amazing story. The central conflict is Reinke's head-butting with the municipal council, other citizens and even his own parish. The local daily newspaper hates his guts and places stories everyday that directly or indirectly slam the existence of the homeless shelter. The council even begins to dredge up all manner of legislation to make life miserable for Reinke and his overnighters. The good Pastors's family supports him, but they're also on the short end of the stick since Reinke is working everyday for long hours. He even has conflicts with some of the men.
Still and all, he's passionate and committed to extending Christian charity. Though he does extensive criminal background checks on all potential clients, he realizes that desperate men in desperate times might well have criminal records. Reinke's desire is to simply get to know the men and the circumstances which led them to commit the crimes. One of his overnighters is a registered sex offender. Fearing this will cause controversy, the Pastor removes the man from the church and, with his family's unreserved support, allows the man to sleep in the Reinke family home. Besides, the sex crimes registry in the USA is so Draconian that this middle-aged man, who now finds himself sleeping in the family's basement, has a weighty stigma attached to him because of the fact that, at the age of 18 (!!!) he was having sexual relations with his 16-year-old girlfriend (!!!).
Moss's commitment to this very long story, which transpired over a considerable period of time, is admirable. In fact, the film is ultimately a harrowing, character-driven story and we follow Reinke as he slowly begins to lose it. Shockingly, a secret is soon revealed that devastates the Pastor, his family, the community and certainly us. The sad reality exposed is that Christian charity really doesn't extend beyond fundamentalist lip service. A Pastor, a Man of God, is after all, a Human Being - deserving of both respect and forgiveness as much as any man.
It's just not in the cards. Most Christians, it seems, are the biggest hypocrites of them all.
Especially in Williston, North Dakota.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** 4 Stars
The Overnighters is a FilmsWeLike release at TIFF Bell Lightbox. For further info, visit the TIFF website HERE.
PLEASE FEEL FREE TO ORDER ANYTHING FROM AMAZON BY USING THE LINKS BELOW. CLICKING ON THEM AND THEN CLICKING THROUGH TO ANYTHING WILL ALLOW YOU TO ORDER AND IN SO DOING, SUPPORT THE ONGING MAINTENANCE OF THE FILM CORNER.