PBS has a documentary peogram called POV, which showcases independent documentaries from around the world.
One documentary that is showcased on POV right now is a film I saw in 2104 at the Sundance Film Festival called “The Overnighters” directed by Jesse Moss. I was able to meet Jesse and the film’s subject, Jay Reinke, and witness a great conversation with them at the Windrider Forum.
It’s about a Lutheran Pastor who started an overnight program for migrant oil industry workers in Williston, North Dakota. Unable to help them find housing, and learning that the city had made it illegal to sleep in public, so he opened up his church parking lot and eventually the church itself to men down on their luck, having traveled to the town to find work in true oil boom. Hospitality like this often garners pushback from those who are fearful of outsiders. In the film, he gets opposition from church members, neighbors, the city counsel and local journalists.
I rewatched it last night. Once again, I am VERY impressed with this film. When I spoke with Jesse after a question and answer session, I asked him how he was able to make the film, essentially a fly-on-the-wall cinema verite style documentary, so intimate and cinematic.
For example, there’s one scene where Pastor Jay is swiftly walking down the street, trying to avoid the pointed questions of a local journalist about whether or not he knew there were some registered sex offenders staying in the Church parking lot. After the altercation, Pastor Jay looks at the camera and says, “This may spell the end of my ministry in Williston.”
Jesse told me that he essentially lived WITH the overnighters over a period of months, with just his camera and sound gear.
The film is full of raw, candid moments in which the migrant workers, Jay himself, his family and members of the church wrestle with that line between duty and hospitality, compassion and fear or just plain exhaustion. It is extremely evident that his subjects trusted Jesse during the filming, and the result is a compassionate portrait of the struggles of the working class in America along with an opportunity to reflect on the moral and spiritual duty we all have towards the other.
I’d suggest going over to POV on PBS and watching it, and then check out this update from (former) Pastor Jay Reinke.