The Overnighters, a story of the North Dakota oil boom
September 4, 2015 7:32 PM   Subscribe

The Overnighters, a documentary about searching for a new start and so much more. 10 Things To Know About "The Overnighters", be aware #7 to #10 contain spoilers.

Not sure how long it will be available online, the trailer and some discussion from PBS's POV where it had its broadcast premier earlier this summer
posted by readery (12 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Saw this in the theatre--it's really, really good. I didn't know anything about it before I saw it and--wow. It's hard to say much without spoiling it so I'll just say, it's really worth a watch for many reasons. I thought it was just fabulous film storytelling.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:44 AM on September 5, 2015

This made me look back at Gregg Zart's short YouTube clips about his 2012 trek to Williston, and his interviews in the years since with people there. Some looking for work, some who've lived there a while, others who travel through to work as needed.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:06 AM on September 5, 2015

Okay, I am totally watching this tonight.
posted by Mezentian at 1:14 AM on September 5, 2015

Yeah, this was a really great documentary.

Last summer I took the train from Chicago to Portland. It turns out that the stretch through North Dakota goes through the oil fields, and so the train was full of these rough, crusty men who were suddenly fabulously rich going to or from the oil fields. Since I was on the train for 58 hours straight, I ended up splurging and eating dinner at the dining car one night. I was by myself, so I got slotted in to sit next to random people wherever there is an empty seat. The guy sitting next to me was enormous and well-tattooed, and said he was heading home from the oil fields, and pulled out a hundred dollar bill (not the only one in his wallet) to pay for his - and my - dinner. (He apparently also spent a lot of time working on fishing boats in Alaska).

In the observation car, I sat next to a kid who was going home to Montana from Williston, studying a book of tax law - putting himself through law school with the money he earned in ND.

The next morning I sat next to a guy with only three fingers on his right hand - he'd lost the others in various accidents associated with oil work - but he was looking forward to going home to his ranch in the middle of the wildnerness, where he swore he saw mountain lions a few times a week when he'd go out hunting. I think he was putting at least some of the money he earned towards purchasing more land, and other money was helping raise his grandkids.

I'm no 'Hardworking Rural Americans are the Salt of the Earth' kind of person, and some of the guys on the train were legitimately terrifying and leered or were harassy. But a lot of them seemed like genuinely nice guys who were in the right place with the right skills at the right time and made astounding amounts of money. They were definitely among the lucky ones!
posted by ChuraChura at 4:14 AM on September 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

Whenever the Bakken comes up, I recommend the excellent Black Gold Boom, by North Dakota Public Radio, which is more industry-related but with a good helping of personal stories.

But, things are splintering out there now; one of my employer's clients is a company ancillary to the oil industry -- layoffs and hours being cut is rampant, jobs are evaporating left and right and the people I talk to are just holding their breath for the shoe to drop. Yesterday I spoke with an executive who, in the middle of a conversation, interjected: "--don't tell your people this, in case they get a call from there, but {branch location} is going away so {project} won't happen and you can take it off the schedule." Not just a layoff; an entire location to be shuttered, nothing likely to reopen there. Now that there's been all the movies made about what the tens of thousands of itinerant workers do when they show up in a small town looking for work with the promise of good and high-paying jobs, the next chapter is to look at what happens when the jobs don't just simply go away, but the businesses themselves disappear altogether, leaving all these guys (particularly the ones struggling, who aren't riding Amtrak home every weekend) with no options.
posted by AzraelBrown at 4:56 AM on September 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

I guess Black Gold Boom isn't related to the absolutely shameful fatality statistics in the Bakken (one dead worker per six weeks is the average I believe, I went looking for the PBS story I recalled recently, and found an NPR one from 2013) - which is to say nothing of the as-yet not fully understood externalities of shale drilling (seismicity, birth defects) - but it's interesting.

Jobs do, in fact, disappear overnight. I've never seen anything like it. North Sea oil production is a slow drip of job losses, but Alberta and the Bakken are astonishing.

The macro-economics of shale oil are fascinating.

Not just a layoff; an entire location to be shuttered, nothing likely to reopen there.

Here's the thing, and I am still trying to understand it (since renewables are taking off more rapidly than I can ever recall): shale oil has proved remarkably resilient, more than anyone ever considered. And it has made the Saudis look really stupid.

But that oil is still there, and unconventionals are different to what people have known before.

You can shut in hundreds of wells, or not drill thousands of acreage of Eagle Ford or Bakken or wherever, at the costs of thousands of jobs when oil hits $40 per barrel, but as soon as it hits $60 per barrel, you can get out there, because of the way unconventionals are a repeatable business.

To me, it seems as if it's a boom and bust cycle on steroids.

On pure economics, I am utterly baffled about how this is going to end.
posted by Mezentian at 6:34 AM on September 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is movie is amazing and I want to join the chorus of people recommending you watch it. Intense view into humanity and all its complexity.
posted by wyndham at 1:58 PM on September 5, 2015

This really stuck with me. I have driven I94 a few times and found it beautifully empty but a few years ago the former emptiness of North Dakota had changed measurably. We didn't stop in Williston, the biggest thing we noticed were speed traps, local counties taking advantage of the higher rate of traffic.

Here's an interview with the filmmaker about his process.

A follow up newspaper article from the local paper.
posted by readery at 3:27 PM on September 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Watched it a few months ago (there's even a fanfare discussion), it's a really engrossing documentary.
posted by drezdn at 9:36 AM on September 6, 2015

I just got finished watching this and am surprised that it wasn't posted before this month. I've had it for awhile and hadn't gotten around to watching it. I expected it to be good, but not as good or as astonishing as it turned out to be. Also, checking for a MetaFilter thread was my last stop -- I just read every interview and newspaper story I could find. Maybe I'll come back and add links later.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:39 PM on September 19, 2015

A few things ... but they're spoilers. It's a little weird to worry about spoilers with a documentary. I also recently watched The Stories We Tell (which was also really, really good) and for neither of these films did I have anything beyond the basic info. I didn't expect that there would be anything that could be "spoiled", which I think is best, and so I apologize for spoiling that there's spoilers possible at all, but this is kind of a catch-22.
Okay, so a couple of things. First, about Keith Greaves.

Not too long after filming was complete he was arrested in Williston basically for pimping but also in that he also is alleged to have raped a woman he'd talked into going with him about a job, which in context sounds like she was desperate and may or may not have been looking to do prostitution work, but he just stopped somewhere and assaulted her.

He lied about his past criminal record. It wasn't, as he claimed, a statutory rape charge when he was 18 and the girl was 15. It was when he was about 23 and what he was charged for was sexual assault of a "child under the age of 14". That was in 1999, he had some earlier charges, too.

It's possible that he came to North Dakota to pimp because it's a huge disproportionate population of men with a lot of cash, and (in many cases) not the kind of men who would be averse to prostitutes. So that would make sense. Alternatively, he was trying to find a good job, like everyone else, and only regressed to what was clearly a criminal opportunity. Either way, or a bit of both.

Even so, personally I'm opposed to these sexual offender registry laws and, more generally, the way in which people with any criminal past in the US are pushed to the margins of society, as if rehabilitation isn't possible and as if we're not just encouraging a permanent criminal underclass. But, regardless, Keith Greaves was not the man he presented himself as to the Reinke family.

With regard to Reinke himself -- what I suspected while watching the film but which I think perhaps many won't, is that Reinke belongs to the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church, which is quite conservative as mainline protestants in the US go. They believe in biblical inerrancy and creationism, for example. You can read Reinke's Facebook feed -- he's extremely culturally conservative. Homophobic, pro-life, creationist, basically all the things that people associate primarily with southern evangelicals, or whatever. Michele Bachmann, by the way, is also Lutheran but her church is part of an even more conservative, smaller synod.

This is why he's closeted and self-hating and why he had to resign and, for example, it's not an option for him to pursue his pastoral career at a Lutheran church that isn't homophobic.

I think he's a hero for what he did in Williston, but to me that is independent of all his noxious and hurtful beliefs. Both things are true. I think he's almost certainly self-hating and trapped and that this absolutely plays a role in how he understands his moral duty within the context of his faith to be the kind of person and do the sorts of things we see him do in the film. I think the film hints at the ways in which his motives are suspect -- in my opinion, his chief sin is almost certainly a kind of pride that Christians of a certain sort are very prone to. He's performing his virtue to others and himself, and there's pride in that. And I think that it creates some blindness within him about the context and consequences of the choices he's making. His decision to move Keith into his home and push out the other guy, that's a good example. To be frank, I have the impression that all of his ability to be self-critical has been sadly funneled into his self-recriminations about his sexual orientation, and otherwise he works very hard to ostentatiously be a virtuous person in ways that are subtly self-serving and sometimes destructive. For me, I don't care that much about how self-serving he is, except insofar as that expresses in ways that produce outcomes that are destructive to others. I think we see some of that in the film, but we also see much more that is constructive. In the end, he helped a huge number of people who desperately needed that help, and that matters most. On the other hand, I can't help but feel that he could have accomplished most of what he did accomplish, and possibly more over a longer term, were he to have done things in a different way that would have required more self-awareness than he presently seems to have.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:42 PM on September 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

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