Does the American Dream still exist? It’s something which the USA is built on – the belief that you can make something of yourself from nothing and become a success from meagre roots. As a relatively new nation, the belief that hard work and perseverance will get you to the top still echoes across the country. However, is it an erstwhile pipe dream or a tangible reality? This question sits at the core of Jesse Moss’ documentary The Overnighters. A story that is as terrifying as it is heartbreaking.
Moss’ film focuses on the mass migration to North Dakota following the oil boom, zeroing in on the town of Williston. The area now has an abundance of jobs but very little accommodation to house the huge influx of would-be workers as house prices and rent rates have sky rocketed.This is causing a lot of issues in the area as crime rates have soared and the locals are furious as swarms of outsiders encroach on their lives. Pastor Jay Reinke tries to help these homeless workers and satisfy the locals and it’s a struggle that he fights hard for against much opposition.
The Overnighters raises a lot of questions showing how dreams can cause all sorts of problems for people when they try to make them a reality. It illustrates how money can sometimes bring out the worst in people and Moss shows how self entitlement can destroy lives and communities. It’s a powerful documentary that has a lot of parallels to the gold rush and the oil boom in California (many have also compared it to John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath). Times may change but human nature stays the same. It’s just the dark side of humanity but it also shows how some people are willing to help out complete strangers.
A hard-hitting documentary, The Overnighters has won numerous awards and accolades. It shows that the power of cinema doesn’t have to be focused on fiction. Reality can be much more powerful.
The Overnighters comes with a director’s commentary, deleted scenes and an interview with Jay Reinke.