- Associated Press - Friday, October 31, 2014

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) - Williston residents have seen their first glimpse of an award-winning documentary about the gritty side of life in the oil boomtown.

Jesse Moss’ documentary “The Overnighters” premiered Thursday night before a packed house at Williston’s downtown Grand Theater. The showing was followed by a panel discussion featuring Moss, Williston Herald managing editor Jerry Burnes and former Williston mayor Ward Koeser.

“The Overnighters” follows a Lutheran pastor, Jay Reinke, who allowed down-and-out migrant workers to sleep in his church, its parking lot and eventually his home. Over two years, more than 1,000 men and women relied on his hospitality, stoking tensions in the rapidly growing community, particularly after The Williston Herald reported that sex offenders were living in the church.

The film won the Special Jury Award for Intuitive Filmmaking at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

“It was a good depiction of what it takes to make it out here,” said Burnes.

Locals have seen North Dakota’s oil boom and its high-paying jobs transform the once small, isolated farm town. Williston’s population doubled between 2010 and 2013 from around 15,000 to 30,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and new arrivals now outnumber locals. Many came as economic refugees hoping for a second shot.

The influx has overtaxed infrastructure and spiked crime rates - developments that have caused friction between locals and new arrivals. Housing supply could not keep up with population growth and rents quickly found a place among the most expensive in the nation.

“People come here with hope for a better future and can find a good job anywhere,” said Koeser. “But you just have no place to live.”

Moviegoer John Edwards identified with the men in the film. He moved from Seattle to Williston three years ago and found himself living in a truck and an RV. Now he plans on staying for the rest of his life.

“We all need to be more considerate of the new folks,” was his takeaway from the film.

Williston-native and retired social worker Coreen Nehring also identified with the film. Several years ago she was working at a senior citizen service center in downtown Williston near where buses would drop off new arrivals every day. She said she’d often call Reinke, the pastor, when people needed help getting on their feet.

“I saw very desperate people,” she said.

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