A Strange Preview: The Overnighters

 

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UPDATE (03/11/15): My review of the film can be found here.

So you’ve all heard of this “oil rush” happening in North Dakota, right? If not, there’s this oil rush happening in North Dakota. People from every which place are flooding into the state to take advantage of the one million barrels a day of oil that are being produced—and the jobs that kind of production floats.

Only the promise of quick riches is proving to be empty for many who have forsaken everything to head north.

Documentarian Jesse Moss got wind of one community, Williston, affected by the influx of “immigrants” to the state in search of six-figure gigs pumping black gold, and the LCMS church that attempted to meet the needs of those would-be oilmen and women. Moss and crew decided to capture on film this “Steinbeckian” story of hopes of new beginnings dashed and the search for community in the midst of personal chaos.

Pastor Jay Reinke of Concordia Lutheran Church is at the heart of Moss’s film. His attempt to open his congregation’s doors to the desperate workers who found themselves homeless and helpless proved quite dramatic itself, it seems. The community of Williston, N.D., found these intransigents—some of whom have a long string of felony convictions—less-than-ideal neighbors, and so demonstrated the limits of Christian charity when human nature is pushed beyond its comfort levels.

The shocker of this story is not just the phony promise of fat salaries for the formerly unemployable, or the controversial practice of fracking that is making these wells gush, but of a scandal that finally pushed Pastor Reinke out of his church. Lloyd Grove has a piece up at the Daily Beast that whets the whistle:

At this particular moment in the film, Reinke is the pastor of the Concordia Lutheran Church, and—despite the concerns and even objections of his congregation, and the ire of certain citizens of the town—he has offered Army cots, floor space and parking spots to scores of unemployed men like Todd who’ve arrived from places as far away as Iraq, looking for work and shelter.

He throws his arms around Todd, who’s in the midst of confessing his evil ways and adding that he was born only because his mother was raped.

“Can I tell you something? You and I are a whole lot more alike than we are different,” the good reverend announces. “I’m broken. We’re broken. We’re just broken. We’re in this together.”

Little more than a year after documentary filmmaker Jesse Moss captured that fraught encounter, Reinke’s life, along with that of his wife and three kids, has been shattered apart and cobbled together in surprising, painful and possibly hopeful ways.

Reinke lost his pulpit and was drummed out of the conservative Missouri Synod of the Lutheran denomination. He has been hounded by muckraking newspaper reporters—one of whom is shown chasing him down the street and asking accusatory questions like a modern-day Javert.

He has struggled to keep his marriage together after confronting some inconvenient truths about himself. He has just begun to recover from an ordeal he calls “The Scandal,” only recently lifting his eyes from the pavement to greet neighbors as he strolls through downtown Williston. (The revelation of the nature of that “scandal”—no spoilers here—proves the film’s pivotal moment.)

I have avoided googling unnecessarily, as I would like to be surprised by the ending myself, should I ever get the chance to see the film. (It’s being rolled out slowly, theater by theater, city by city, by IFC Films.) But given the line about “keeping his marriage together,” I guess one can guess.

Here’s the trailer of a film that has already garnered excellent reviews and film-festival honors:

UPDATE: From the comments, someone who was a member of Concordia in Williston (with, I guess, a spoiler alert of sorts!):

Having seen this up close and personal, I can assure you that this “documentary” has a narrative that is anything but truly insightful. Jay is a guy with so many problems that will never be on display because that would justify the actions of the church, both local and national. He will be portrayed as a gay Robin Hood who always did the right thing but the locals crucified him. Gag. Now at least you know the truth.

… one more thing I have to point out (that the film conveniently neglects) is that most of the people who left Concordia, including us, did so before the overnighter thing or the revelations of Jay’s homosexual infidelities. I told Barb many years ago that I thought he was struggling with same sex issues. This documentary is a virtual lie and Jay is always nearly intoxicated with public attention, good or BAD, so this whole “fame” development plays to his issues. I told him repeatedly that he had “issues”. He couldn’t hear it. Notice how he is in the middle of it all, even though it casts a bad light on Concordia. I believe he has a true narcissistic personality disorder.

As I noted in the comments: I have not seen the film myself, as it is playing in only a handful of venues. But if this commenter’s assessment is true, then more former parishioners should speak up as to the film’s agenda and deficiencies as it garners wider attention (assuming it does).

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3 thoughts on “A Strange Preview: The Overnighters

  1. Why if it is getting awards do I just assume it is a hit piece on the church? I mean, even if it showed an all too human church but one that struggled toward Christ, would it have been at the film festivals?

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    1. I have not seen the film so I have no idea whether this is a deliberate anti-church hit piece or a smack at fracking — or both.

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  2. Comments from a friend of mine, (Orthodontist) and is an LCMS Lutheran, who lives in Williston, ND:

    Thanks, Johns, Having seen this up close and personal, I can assure you that this “documentary” has a narrative that is anything but truly insightful. Jay is a guy with so many problems that will never be on display because that would justify the actions of the church, both local and national. He will be portrayed as a gay Robin Hood who always did the right thing but the locals crucified him. Gag. Now at least you know the truth. TR

    Johns, one more thing I have to point out (that the film conveniently neglects) is that most of the people who left Concordia, including us, did so before the overnighter thing or the revelations of Jay’s homosexual infidelities. I told Barb many years ago that I thought he was struggling with same sex issues. This documentary is a virtual lie and Jay is always nearly intoxicated with public attention, good or BAD, so this whole “fame” development plays to his issues. I told him repeatedly that he had “issues”. He couldn’t hear it. Notice how he is in the middle of it all, even though it casts a bad light on Concordia. I believe he has a true narcissistic personality disorder. TR

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