When the final credits rolled on _The Overnighters _at Hot Docs in Toronto, murmurs of disbelief rumbled through the audience. Some were still reeling at the film's final act, while others were buzzing over the pending Q&A with director Jesse Moss and the "special guest" he'd promised. I, however, was most struck by seeing Skywalker Sound listed in the film's credits. Why? Because it's a testament to the power of this tiny documentary - about an unknown North Dakotan preacher - that it was able to attract such a high-profile studio partner.
Based on your credit, you must have been the one who convinced the suits at Skywalker to take a break from polishing their 18 Academy Awards and testing new lightsaber sounds to carve out a little time for this Midwestern gem. Clearly, your argument didn't hinge on money--budgets don't exactly swell for films about the collapsed American dream, told through the lens of ex-convicts and aspiring oil-riggers. No, you must have done it out of love. After all, whatever magic you might work in that studio, it's almost impossible to make a film like this sound appealing to a mass audience. But, like you and your team did, I'm going to try.
To be honest, the first three-quarters of the film is only a moderately above-average documentary. The cinematography is clean, competent, depicting the desperate conditions of men who abandon their families and drive cross-country for a chance to share in the fortune of the oil-boom and end up living like homeless men in Pastor Jay's parish. The director's unobstructed access to everyone is admirable, achieving a level of intimacy that is only given to the most trusted of documentary filmmakers. The storytelling itself, which weaves together an enviable assortment of characters and backstories, never loses focus on the main thread: the community's threat to close the parish over Pastor Jay's open-door policy to vagrants (apparently, there's such a thing as being too Christian),
That last quarter of the film, however, is truly remarkable.
Those final confessions and confrontations that your sound team finessed are the real achievement of this film. People open up, exploring their fears, exposing their secrets, all with an honesty that's rarely seen. We don't just hear about bonds between family and friends being broken, we see these moments captured in heart-breaking detail. Pastor Jay's own story is the most compelling of them all. No matter how overwrought his first foreshadowing monologue was, it didn't prepare me for where the film would go.
And no, I don't mean Skywalker Sound studios.