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Sudden impact

"Sudden impact" Continued...

Issue: "Believing in Iraq," May 17, 2014

Reinke was “at the pinch point of these tremendous forces,” Moss said. The film presents Reinke as a hero, but a flawed hero. True generosity has a cost. “You and I are a lot more alike that we are different,” Reinke tells a drug addict staying in the church in the film. “I’m broken, we’re broken.” Those in churches and nonprofits will find the film painful to watch, because the story is familiar in the pitfalls of well-intentioned ministry and the personal failings of leaders. Moss produced an honest, messy story that comes from spending 18 months watching an overstretched church and an overstretched pastor. 

The film festival audiences didn’t all react warmly. In a brief discussion with Moss and Reinke after the screening of The Overnighters, one woman stood up and told Reinke that his faith was “silly,” and that he was “anti-Semitic” for pushing “your version of Christianity.” She concluded, “The pastor was promoting a Nazi environment.” Audience members began to boo and shout at her, but Moss immediately stepped in to defend Reinke: “What I saw in that church was America. Next question.”

Another woman stood up a few minutes later. “I just want to dispute what the other lady said,” she began. “I thought I was going to see something about a pastor and religion and I was leery. Or about fracking and I was going to be [ticked] off. But I loved the film. Thank you.”

Audience members swarmed Reinke after, and he unobtrusively shared his faith. As they praised his service, he talked about Lutheran liturgy, where you recite, “Lord, your Word is true, I have sinned,” at the opening of services. It’s not, Lord, here are the good things I’ve done this week, he told a knot of Manhattanites around him.

A scene from Misconception.
Participant Media
A scene from Misconception.
ONE REASON DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKERS may not make many films about devout Christians is that they sometimes struggle to find willing subjects. Another major documentary at Tribeca, Misconception, had an evangelical Christian as one of three main characters. The film by Oscar-winning director Jessica Yu is about population trends and follows three story lines: a Chinese bachelor frustrated in his search for a wife under the one-child policy; an evangelical Christian and pro-life advocate at the UN; and a Ugandan journalist who writes about abandoned children.

In producing Misconception, Yu wanted to highlight religious advocates at the UN and met with the coalition of pro-life groups there. They all refused to participate in the film, except for Denise Mountenay, who is winningly earnest in her faith but said enough cringeworthy comments that she was probably not the best representative of the group. (When Mountenay is meeting with the delegate from Bangladesh about abortion, she gives him a model of a baby at 10 weeks in brown plastic and says: “It’s your color!”) The audience laughed at Mountenay through the film, though she was sitting in the audience. Still, she gamely went to the front for questions after and said she loved the film.

Jessica Yu.
Larry Busacca/Getty Images
Jessica Yu.
“There’s some mistrust [from Christians] and I understand that,” said Yu in an interview. “But I think that’s what leads to the lack of communication. We did want to tell the story from a perspective you don’t see a lot at film festivals.”

Moss in filming The Overnighters put considerable effort into building relationships in the church; he went by himself instead of with a crew, to be more approachable. For six months of the filming, he slept in the church with all the men, but members of the church still felt that he shouldn’t be intruding.

“It would have been nice if they had been a little more forthcoming, but I don’t think they’re painted in a reductive way. I think they’re really dignified in their voice, because they deserve to be,” Moss said. “I would love to show this in churches, in seminaries across America, if they would have me.”

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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