The Overnighters

Chaz and Roger in Life Itself

We’re halfway through the year, which means there are still a few months left before any movies start looking like Best Picture contenders. But it also means that we’ve already heard about most of the nominees for Best Documentary Feature of 2014. Those nominees won’t be announced until January 15th. The shortlist won’t even arrive until November or December. Yet at this point in the year, with most of the relevant film festivals out of the way, there are titles that are easily seen as frontrunners. One of these, though, is racing way ahead of the competition. According to many in the doc community, a particular film opening this Friday is a definite lock for the Oscar: the Roger Ebert profile Life Itself. It is indeed really great, surely one of the best works of nonfiction this year (see my five star review at Nonfics), but that’s not the only reason it has the race won already. It’s not really the main reason, either. Those I’ve heard from on this matter state the primary factor as being its appeal and connection to the Academy voters. “Every member who received a good review from Roger is going to pick Life Itself,” said Adam Benzine of Realscreen. I don’t know if that’s the safest bet, but there is the fact that Ebert was a huge supporter of documentary filmmakers, including some influential figures in the documentary branch of the Academy. Life Itself features a couple of them, as well as Martin Scorsese, who […]



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. READ MORE

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