Thoughts about the Director’s Cut from The Overnighters documentary – part 1

I recently watched the director’s cut of The Overnighters. Many things come into focus after listening to the interview.

This will be the first in a series of posts reflecting on the director’s cut. I would like to get these posted before the middle of July, which is the scheduled start of a federal trial of one of the participants in the documentary.

My previous discussions of the documentary can be found here.

The limit of my vision is not the limit of the world

That is a perceptive comment I came across a few years ago that helps me understand many things. There is far more going on in the world that I can see or perceive or understand or even have a clue that exists.

Assuming that nothing exists beyond what you or I know about is a serious danger.

That concept is behind many of my reflections on the director’s cut. That concept is a driving force behind why I read so much in general and so much on this blog –  – I am trying to stretch my feeble vision.

There are serious limits to what a documentary can tell you

This documentary is shown in the style of what I have now learned is called vérité. That realism means the only thing you see on-screen is what people in the story said on the record while the camera rolled. The entire story is told only using what the documentary maker recorded.

There is an extreme limit to how much of the story can be told in that format. The only thing that exists is what was captured on camera. No other background or explanation is provided other than what someone was willing to say while the cameras were rolling at the time things happened. No backfill. No context other than what someone said.

That left out of the story a huge amount of information which would have radically changed perceptions on some of the players. More on that throughout this series of posts.

The assumption that there’s nothing else going on in Williston or at the church beyond what shows up the documentary is a catastrophic flaw in most of the reactions people have to this documentary.

Merely one of long list of ways to illustrate this point is the focus of the documentary. The goal of the presentation was to discuss people who are struggling. The focus was on a small number of men (perhaps half a dozen) who moved to North Dakota and eventually failed.

In contrast, there were over 1,000 people who slept in the church and hundreds more who slept in the parking lot who succeeded.

Those people generally thrived.  I will guess the vast majority of them are still in Williston.

The city grew from around 11,000 people before the boom to somewhere around 32,000 recently. So that means there is something in the range of plus or minus 20,000 people who are living, working, and thriving in Williston.

Yet the general consensus I have read from many articles about the documentary is that it seems nobody succeeded. From reactions to the movie, you would think that just about everyone went home a broken failure. Several tweets I’ve read have stated that as the lesson of the documentary. If the only thing you know about North Dakota, Williston, or the entire shale oil industry is what you see in this documentary, then that might be a reasonable conclusion.

One of the great ironies in the director’s cut is while the director interviewed many people who failed in Williston, Mr. Graves was identified as one of the few who survived. (The irony is that he is awaiting trial for 10 felony charges, including seven counts of human trafficking.)

Having dived deep into this story creates some troubling doubt in the back of my mind in terms of how much credibility to give any documentary I watch in the future. I hope I will remember to always be wondering what else is involved that wasn’t covered.

Full disclosure

Time to repeat my full disclosure comments:

  • When our son moved to North Dakota, he slept in the church’s building and parking lot for some time before he found a new job that offered housing. I knew of the Overnighters program a long time before I heard of this movie.
  • Our son joined Concordia Lutheran Church and was a member during the time frame of the movie.
  • From those two comments you can accurately conclude that I know more about The Overnighters program and the church than I will mention on my blog.
  • My wife and I are long time members of a church that is part of the same denomination as Concordia Lutheran Church in Williston.
  • I have been writing about the energy boom in North Dakota for a long time. Glance at any half-dozen sequential or random posts on this blog and you will know I have strong opinions on the shale revolution.

As you can see, I have a dog in this race. Filter my comments as you wish.

Part 2.

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