Austin Gay & Lesbian Independent Film Festival (aGLIFF) 9/12/14 – Secret Screenings fill a theater but, let’s face it, they’re always a crap shoot. Fortunately, the odds were in our favor tonight with Drafthouse Films’ latest acquisition, The Overnighters, a documentary in the form of a sharp kick right in the gut of Americana. On its surface, the film explores the mass migration of thousands of down-on-their-luck, blue-collar workers relocating to the small town of Williston, North Dakota with hopes of finding their fortunes in a booming oil industry and turning their lives around. In perfect keeping with America’s pioneer spirit, the region’s prospects have been fabled throughout the country and, also in keeping, grossly overestimated.
Rather than a big-picture socio/environmental study, the film focuses on the impossibly optimistic Reverend Jay Reinke who comes across as a desperate people pleaser out to save the world. Despite the town’s protests, he has taken it upon himself to house these migrants on the church property as they look for work and deal with absolute rejection. Sleeping in the parking lot and any nook they can find within the church, these broken people desperately cling to the hope that they won’t have to retreat back to their dead-end lives. It’s apparent that many of them are trying to run away from themselves as much as anything and the baggage they bring, fundamentally alters Williston and its native residents forever.
This is not a happy tale but it is a powerful film about giving and questioning our own motives. Nothing in this town is what it seems and, in Reinke, director Jesse Moss, has found a man that is stranger than fiction; he is fascinating and subtly bizarre. The film takes time to find its focus but I haven’t seen a more remarkable cultural record of man’s ambitious delusion since Herzog’s Grizzly Man. This is almost an allegorical microcosm of the failings of the American Dream and I will not soon forget its impact on me.
Avid film geek with an art-house leaning but a love for all things cinema, David graduated from the American International University of London with a degree in film production and has spent the last 10 years ‘chasing the cinema dragon’ through the United Kingdom and Los Angeles working as a field producer and writer. He now resides in Austin, Texas where he is a constant presence at the Alamo Drafthouse, a regular contributor to media blogs, and has assisted in the programming of the South by Southwest Film Festival since 2012.