Sundance 2014 Review: ‘The Overnighters’ Depicts a Modern American Dream Fueled by Hope and Desperation


Small towns are a big deal these days, particularly for documentaries focusing on the disappearance of that part of America. But most of those films are focused on places that are shrinking, where poverty and crime are rampant due to factory shutdowns and other economic causes. The Overnighters shows a different dilemma. Williston, North Dakota, is experiencing a boom in population thanks to a rise in nearby oil drilling and therefore a rise in available jobs.

But crime rates also increase along with the growth of towns, and while poverty isn’t technically an issue given that unemployment is officially near-nonexistent and the minimum wage is much higher than required, Williston does have a homeless problem. Its housing market just can’t catch up with the number of people arriving daily, so new residents are sleeping in their cars and filling shopping center lots with their RVs.

Pastor Jay Reinke of the Concordia Lutheran Church is one man trying to alleviate the problem by opening the doors of his Congregation to men and women in need of at least floor space and a roof over their head. These are mainly employed people with no other option for shelter, but some are guys who’ve just arrived and have criminal records that Reinke may be willing to forgive so long as it doesn’t keep them from finding work. Unfortunately, not everyone is so merciful.

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