Documentary Films | 2017 | 92 minutes
Stranger Says: Dash-cam video shows a police officer approaching a vehicle as a black suspect, who is reportedly wielding a knife, opens the passenger door. The officer yells, “Don’t you move or I’ll shoot you,” before the man climbs out of the car. The officer fires multiple shots into the suspect’s body. By now, we’re used to seeing videos of this kind—black men killed by police officers. In Peter Nicks’s documentary The Force, it’s Oakland police cadets who watch the video and dissect the timeline of events leading to another black man dead. Nicks secured incredible access to the department from 2014 to 2016, when it had already ticked off more than 10 years of noncompliance with a negotiated settlement agreement. As the nation turns its eyes on its police departments, Nicks offers an interior view of one trying to adapt to the dictates of policing in the age of #BLM. But his lens doesn’t make any judgments. He leaves it up to the footage to tell the story—no interviews, no narration. We see one captain repeatedly tell officers in training that a single misdeed can ruin the reputation of the department. We see the police chief, with his public-relations team, anticipating questions from the press following a fatal police shooting. We see community members decrying slow response times and protesters stomping through a police cruiser’s windshield. Toward the end of the film, news breaks that several Oakland officers raped and trafficked a teenage girl. The police chief resigns. So do his two next replacements. The Oakland Police Department finds itself, once again, at a nadir of community trust. And we’re watching it all unfold in real time. (STEVEN HSIEH)
SIFF Says:Considered one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S., Oakland and its police force have been placed under federal oversight since 2002 in response to a string of misconduct cases. The Force, shot in a crucial time period (2014-16), overlaps with the Black Lives Matter movement and nationwide public scrutiny of police brutality. Director Peter Nicks captures the voices of local residents and activists who still have issues with the department that turned a blind eye to four veteran officers, dubbed the “Oakland Riders,” who allegedly planted evidence and kidnapped their own citizens; and also offers the audience an internal perspective of the Oakland Police Department through Chief Sean Whent, a man with the noble goal of cutting police shootings and violence. The implementation of body cameras and seminars from African-American community liaisons reinforce the chief’s ideology to serve the community as best his department can. But when a sex scandal erupts involving 14 Oakland officers and an underage girl, Whent considers resignation. In his refusal to draw a conclusion, Nicks leaves the audience pondering what force is to blame.
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