'The Overnighters' shows dark side of North Dakota oil boom

Wed Oct 8, 2014 11:20am EDT
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By Ernest Scheyder

WILLISTON N.D. (Reuters) - Desperate for a fresh start, unemployed workers from all over the world have converged on North Dakota's burgeoning oil patch, seeking six-figure salaries and the rewards of living in the fastest-growing economy in the nation.

But award-winning documentary "The Overnighters," opening in New York on Friday before expanding nationally, shows the bleak side of that American Dream and the complex efforts of one man to be a Good Samaritan.

"The film does show how much harder it is to survive here than people think," filmmaker Jesse Moss told Reuters.

"The Overnighters" tracks the men, and a handful of women, whose dreams of wealth and redemption from past mistakes collide with unwelcoming residents and limited housing in Williston, the epicenter of the energy boom in North Dakota, where more than 1 million barrels of oil are produced monthly.

    Lutheran pastor Jay Reinke offers down-on-their luck emigrants a place to sleep inside his church while they acclimate, labeling the newcomers as "overnighters." About 1,000 took up his offer over a period of about two years.

    That decision quickly becomes unpopular with the Williston establishment and nearly tears Reinke's church and family apart.

"The people arriving on our doorsteps are gifts to us," Reinke says in the film. "Not only are these men my neighbors, the people who don't want them here are also my neighbors," adds Reinke, a tall, effusive man who spent 20 years pastoring to the community in obscurity.

The film won a special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival in January and has generated widespread acclaim. Variety magazine compared it to a John Steinbeck tale from the Great Depression of the 1930s, and The Hollywood Reporter called it "a sobering illustration of the tenuousness of stability in 21st-Century America."   Continued...

Jay Reinke is shown in this film production still photo framed by the doorway of an abandoned church, in the film "The Overnighters" in this undated handout photo in Williston, North Dakota, provided by Drafthouse Films October 7, 2014. REUTERS/Drafthouse Films