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Meet the 2014 Sundance Filmmakers #32: Hope and Desperation Abound in Jesse Moss’ ‘The Overnighters’

Meet the 2014 Sundance Filmmakers #32: Hope and Desperation Abound in Jesse Moss' 'The Overnighters'

With an oil boom occurring in a small North Dakota town, the possibilities in Jesse Moss’ documentary feature “The Overnighters” seem endless. But the controversy of the job-seekers’ criminal pasts leads to even more controversial measures by the town’s pastor, and makes for utterly compelling and probing drama.

What It’s About: The Overnighters is about a group of desperate, broken men who chase
their dreams and run from their demons in the North Dakota oil field,
and the local pastor who risks everything to help them.

So What It’s Really About: Pastor Jay Reinke is the charismatic but deeply conflicted main
character in the film. His decision to help these job-seekers – some
of whom have criminal records – by opening the doors of his church and
letting them sleep on the floor, in the pews and in the parking lot, puts
him in conflict with nearly everyone in his life: his congregation, his
neighbors, the local newspaper, and ultimately his own family. Set
against the backdrop of the extraordinary oil boom in North Dakota, the
film is an intimate, dramatic and emotional journey that plays out like a
modern-day Grapes of Wrath.

Tell us briefly about yourself. I’m a San Francisco-based filmmaker. My previous films
include “Full Battle Rattle,” a film about the U.S. Army’s Iraq War
training simulation in the Mojave Desert; “Speedo: A Demolition Derby
Love Story” about a Long Island demolition-derby champion; and “Con Man,” a
portrait of an Ivy League impostor.

What was your biggest challenge in completing this film? Because hotel rooms in Williston, North Dakota were booked
solid by oil companies, I couldn’t find a place to sleep. Fortunately,
Pastor Jay let me sleep in the church. It wasn’t the most comfortable
environment, but it put me right inside the story, and allowed me to
build a strong relationship with the men I filmed.

Did you crowdfund? If so, via what platform. If not, why? I did the opposite of crowd-fund. The sensitive nature of the
story required discretion. But I’m looking forward to crowd-funding to
help with the next phase of the film’s life.

What cameras did you shoot on? I shot on the Sony F3 camera. It’s a big, heavy camera for
hand-held, verite shooting, but the images are extraordinary. I found
ways to keep it compact.

What do you want your Sundance audience to take away from your film? The moral imperative to “love they neighbor” proves much easier to
preach than practice. The film explores this moral dilemma through the
prism of ‘The Overnighters’ program, and provides an intimate, ground
level look at the way the energy boom is transforming both individual
lives and communities.

Have any films inspired you? Films that tell intimately-scaled, character-driven stories and
capture the complexity and contradictions of life. “Harlan County USA”
was a creative touchstone for me, as well as “Darwin’s Nightmare”. And I admire
filmmakers like James Longley and Laura Poitras who make beautiful,
intimate, observational films, take creative risks, and find original
ways to engage the issues of our time.

What’s next for you? Bring this film into the world, and have some really interesting conversations. Then fiction, I hope.

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us
about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they
faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses
leading up to the 2014 festival.
For profiles, click HERE.

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