Entrevue avec Jesse Moss – The Overnighters

Le cinéaste Jesse Moss nous parle de son film The Overnighters, portrait complexe d’un pasteur du Dakota du Nord, programmé dans la section Présentations spéciales du festival.


How did you first learn about this massive migration of unemployed people to North Dakota in the hope of finding jobs in the oil fields? What were your first objectives when you went to shoot there?

In the wake of 2008 recession, the North Dakota oil boom was recognized one of the few bright spots in the American economy, and received some national news attention.  I read some of these stories about the migration of people to the region, but there was no in-depth reporting about their experiences.  I was curious whether these people were finding what they were seeking, and I had a suspicion that life on the ground was a lot harder that these stories suggested.  My objective was to look at this story, from a ground level, character-driven human perspective.

Did you know about the work being done by Pastor Jay Reinke prior to the shoot?

I read a clergy column that Pastor Jay had written in the Williston Herald, the local newspaper, in which he called on the community to welcome these newcomers.  I knew there was a lot of fear in the community – as a result of the murder of a local school teacher by two out-of-towners – and that Pastor Jay’s position was an unusual one.  I called him and we spoke, and that’s when he told me there where men and women sleeping in his church – people who’d arrived seeking work but couldn’t’ find or afford housing.  He invited me to visit.

The film looks like you were on site for a very long period. How was the shoot organized?

I began shooting immediately.  I needed a place to stay as well, and asked Jay if I could stay in the Church, and he welcomed me.  I worked alone, doing camera and sound myself – a crew of one.   I shot the film over 18 months – one trip a month for 18 consecutive months, spending a week to ten days on the ground for each trip.  I slept in the Church for the first six of those months.

Your film deals with very personal issues and tensions. How did you decide what and who to follow?

Jay’s struggle – both against external forces and his internal conflict – were both immediately apparent to me.  His dedication to helping the Overnighters was extraordinary, but also seemed reckless.  I could see he was attempting to balance these tremendous forces in his life: the massive influx of people seeking help and the resistance of the community to this transformation and to his decision to help.  He was the embodiment of this struggle and transformation, and this intrigued me.  And Jay was very open.  I had initially intend to focus more on the stories of the men and women arriving in Williston, but Jay’s story began to emerge as the central narrative of the film.  Jay’s complexity, charisma and compassion were compelling.  As the film progressed, it became more intimate as these struggles took a toll on their lives, and the trust I’d earned over time – working alone – allowed me to be present for these moments.

After all that happened, what is your relationship with Jay Reinke now?

I have a very strong relationship with Jay now.  We speak frequently and he has been a significant part of the film’s public life, attending the film’s premiere at Sundance and traveling around the world to speak with audiences about The Overnighters.   

Do you know of similar issues happening now elsewhere in the country?

North Dakota is unique in some respects.  Because there was little infrastructure to support the oil boom – there has been massive population growth.  Other areas in the country that have benefitted from the energy boom – Texas and Pennsylvania – are more developed and densely populated – and the impact on small communities has not been as severe.  But I think North Dakota is a bellwether – the energy industry will continue to move where the resources area -and unemployed Americans will follow.  An increasingly large segment of the population will have to move to find work, and the impact of this transformation of individual lives, families and communities is a story we’re just beginning to understand.

Séances / Screenings :

Jeudi 13, 20h30 / Thursday 13th, 8:30 pm – Pavillon Judith-Jasmin Annexe

Dimanche 16, 16h15 / Sunday 16th, 4:15 pm – Cinéma du Parc 3