The best documentary of 2014 arrives on Blu-ray.
There was no better documentary released in 2014 than Jesse Moss’s The Overnighters, a movie that is both inspiring and heartbreaking in equal measure. There is more humanity in this movie than nearly any other released last year, examining our compassion, our capacity for strength in the face of adversity and, ultimately, our flaws.
The film focuses on the town of Williston, North Dakota, which experiences a huge influx of people when word gets out of possible job opportunities drilling for oil. The problem is that the town is neither large enough nor properly equipped to sustain these new residents, many of whom are destitute or come from difficult backgrounds. Helping many of the newcomers to find shelter and get acclimated is Jay Reinke, pastor of the Concordia Lutheran Church, who even opens the doors to his church and allows people to sleep there when they can find nowhere else to go (hence the movie’s title). But not everyone in Williston is happy about the new residents or accepting of strangers, and finding a place for them in town is just the start of the challenges Pastor Reinke must face.
Like many of the best documentaries, from the Maysles’ Gimme Shelter to Andrew Jarecki’s Capturing the Friedmans to even Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, events occur during the filming of The Overnighters which push the movie in an entirely different direction. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling what transpires, but it informs the way we see much of what came before and in some respects changes what The Overnighters is really about. Ultimately, it’s a film about people doing their best under difficult circumstances; while there are no outright villains, the movie demonstrates how difficult it can be for us all to live together. Even the best among us is damaged in some way.
The Overnighters arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of its distributor Drafthouse Films, a company that is doing some of the most exciting and interesting work in independent film today — their endorsement is a hallmark of quality and any movie they see fit to pick and up and release is worth seeing. It looks great in high definition; the 1080p, AVC-encoded image boasts impressive detail and totally naturalistic color reproduction. While it’s true that much of the photography consists of fly-on-the-wall observations and interviews, Moss still manages to capture some of the stark beauty of the North Dakota landscape. The lossless 5.1 audio is really only called upon to deliver the dialogue and the occasional pieces of score, at which it does a fine job. Director Moss and Pastor Reinke record a commentary together, which is interesting because it not only offers a perspective on the shooting of the film but also updates us on what life has been like for Reinke since the documentary wrapped. The update gets more in depth during a 20 minute interview with Reinke filmed about six months after the events of The Overnighters. Also included are 15 minutes of deleted scenes and the movie’s original theatrical trailer, as well as trailers for several other Drafthouse documentaries including The Dog, The Act of Killing and 20,000 Days on Earth.
It stands to reason, of course, that The Overnighters wasn’t even nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar this year. Why would they start getting things right now? Drafthouse Films know something about heartbreak in this category, last year having to sit by and watch as their The Act of Killing — one of the best and most important documentaries of this new century — lost out to 20 Feet From Stardom, a fine and inoffensive piece of fluff. That’s ok. Awards are only temporary. Truly great films like The Overnighters last forever.
A haunting, lovely film.