Saturday, November 15, 2014

"The Overnighters": a pastor tries to help unemployed and homeless men coming to the North Dakota oil shale fields; he soon faces his own problems


The Overnighters”, a new documentary by Jesse Moss, purports to depict how two issues intersect:  homeless men out of work, and the oil shale boom in North Dakota, specifically at Williston.
  
Pastor Jay Reinke (in his mid 50s), of the Concordia Lutheran Church, takes upon as part of his personal family, the responsibility to house and help the inbound men.  At first, he puts them up in the fellowship hall at the church, to the growing chagrin of church members.  Soon he selectively allows one or two at a time to stay in his own home, where he has a wife and three tween-to-teen daughters. He certainly practices what he preaches, which amounts to "radical hospitality", taken as far as it can go.   
     
The working men believe they will find work easily, and there is a line that you can make “six figures” doing manual labor on the rigs even if you have a criminal record.  Some do find work, and need housing.  Others drift.  Reinke is soon counseling individual men, telling one, who asks why he is viewed as “trash” (almost like the Andy Warhol term) that men sometimes have to share the burden of the injustice that others experience first.  You can say that about inequality:  if one personally doesn’t take it seriously when others knock, one will help pay for the sins of others.  Many of the people certainly are in the mode of “I’ve got mine” (as Michael Moore would put it) and will look after their own families, and fellow church members and no one else.

The film gets more personal, rather quickly, as it moves into even more troubled shifting sands.  Reinke learns that a particular man in his home is a registered sex offender, although the particular offense seems to have been (heterosexual) statutory rape as a teenager, without the benefit of a “Romeo and Juliet” law.  Soon a local reporter is chasing down the idea that Reinke is housing sex offenders, playing the scoop for the sensationalism, with none of the critical thinking behind the idea that there are serious flaws in our whole system of labeling people that way.  Reinke is forced to come to terms with “herd mentality”, like it or not. He has a very interesting conversation with the "client" in a WalMart about the idea that "not sharing enough" can endanger others, when popular belief is that sharing too much (like in social media) is what drags in other people.  
  
At the same time, the city council is unsympathetic to even listening to Reinke’s pleas to help the homeless.  It maneuvers to shut him down on zoning rules.

At the end of the film, it all falls apart.  Reinke, narrating to the moviegoer, says he has same-sex attractions.  Like some other evangelicals, it seems, he has led a double life, with marriage and family, while carrying on homosexual contacts (which are pictured in the closing credits – adult men of varying looks -- at least that's how I originally by opinion interpreted their images being presented here, although that doesn't mean they were necessarily the same men as those needing shelter or that they were even intimate contacts at all) secretly.  At this point, it’s worthy to compare his story to that of Ted Haggard, as in Pelosi’s film reviewed here Jan. 29, 2009 (also, Book reviews blog Feb. 15, 2009).  Reinke, at 57, certainly is no eye candy himself, least of all in his shorts. Reinke says he was blackmailed, which is something that may happen in conservative religious circles but is becoming less common as social attitudes change.  
  
When the film goes outside, it’s visually magnificent.  You see the “limitless universe” of the western North Dakota high plains, with and without snow.  The land seems table flat, except for some buttes that rise up was you enter the state from I-94.  I have driven the area once, and visited the Theodore Roosevelt National Park myself once, in May 1998. 

The film seems to imply that the church itself dissolved, but in fact it is alive and well now and appears to have a new building, judging from the website, here

  
The best site for the film right now is Jesse Moss’s own, here.  I saw the film at the West End Cinema in Washington DC on Saturday afternoon before a nearly sold-out audience in a small auditorium.  (Hint: it’s a little too hot in that one auditorium; they need to turn the heat down.) This would be good film for a director QA.  I see that the Alamo Draft House cinema in Loudoun County, VA (30 miles away from DC) has some screenings in a large Imax-sized auditorium. The distributor seems to be DraftHouse films. The film ads say that 10% of the proceeds from the film go to help the homeless. 

Here are a couple more references on the pastor's issues, on Buzzfeed ny Kate Arthur here and a comment by Miller on Patheos here.  The comment notes that the director says that the pastor denies that any of the men who came for help were intimate contacts.  Gay City News has an interesting perspective on the film ("Boom and fear on the Great Plains" by Steve Erickson) here
           
Wikipedia attribution link for “Target Logistics Bear Paw Lodge” to house oil workers.  Second picture, Flint Hills, Kansas, 2006 (mine).   Note the comments here. 

3 comments:

Absoleet A said...

You said the men in the closing credits were pastor Jay's sexual contacts but I saw nothing in film which even suggested that they were. It just looked like the film was only showing men from different backgrounds/ethnicities moving through town.

Bill Boushka said...

Could be how I interpreted the credits. At some point, I'll watch that portion on Netflix soon and see how it comes across again. I see that the DVD is now available from Amazon, might have extras with more details.

Bill Boushka said...

Watched the ending and closing credits on Netflix again and I agree with the comment now. I don't know why the film struck me differently when I saw it in a theater in November. I went ahead and ordered the DVD from Amazon.