A modern-day Grapes of Wrath, Jesse Moss's award-winning documentary The Overnighters engages and dramatises a set of universal societal themes: the promise and limits of re-invention, redemption and compassion, as well as the tension between the moral imperative to "love thy neighbour" and the resistance that one small community feels when confronted by a surge of desperate, job-seeking strangers. In the tiny town of Williston, North Dakota, tens of thousands of unemployed hopefuls show up with dreams of honest work and a big paycheck under the lure of the oil boom. However, busloads of newcomers chasing a broken American Dream step into the stark reality of slim work prospects and nowhere to sleep.
The town lacks the infrastructure to house the overflow of migrants, even for those who do find gainful employment. Pastor Jay Reinke of the Concordia Lutheran Church, is driven to deliver the migrants some dignity. Night after night, he converts his church into a makeshift dorm and counselling centre, opening the church's doors to allow the "Overnighters" (as he calls them) to stay for a night, a week or longer. Many who take shelter with Reinke are living on society's fringes and with chequered pasts, and their presence starts affecting the dynamics of the small community. When the City Council threatens to shut the controversial Overnighters program down, Reinke must make a decision which leads to profound consequences that he never imagined.
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