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The Overnighters

A new documentary uncovers the devastating social effects in a small town wrought by its oil-and-gas boom

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North Dakota's oil and gas fields have made the small prairie hamlet of Williston a modern-day boomtown. But as thousands of workers — mostly men from the South and the West — pour in, hoping to snag high-paying manual-labor jobs, there's nowhere to house them. Thus, Jay Reinke, a local pastor, institutes a program to put the "overnighters" up in the church, to the discomfort of neighbors and church members.

That sounds vaguely heartwarming, but Jesse Moss' documentary, The Overnighters, instead casts light on deep cracks in the American Dream, as well as the disconnect between how we see ourselves and how we really are. Moss profiles a few of the workers — stories that begin in hardship, and are briefly buoyed by hope, before ending badly. But the workers are a feint — the heart of The Overnighters is pastor Reinke. His story, gradually revealed as the battle against the town chips away at his cheery, calm exterior, is a shattering journey into the soul.

Most accounts of the renewed oil-and-gas industry focus on the environmental costs or the economic benefits, but few examine the effect on a community and the individuals within it. The Overnighters uncovers nothing that didn't exist before or was lying dormant, but it took the boom to bring such desperation, ugliness and heartbreak to the surface.

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