Before We Vanish by Justin Stewart Film

The Force | Peter Nicks

September 15, 2017

Exciting, fascinating and mostly well-rounded, Peter Nicks’s The Force follows the Oakland Police Department (and by proxy, the citizens and city of Oakland) for two years, with filming having commenced in 2014. Both time and subject are suited for examination; we see the department heads repeatedly harping on the crucial-ness of due protocol in the fiery aftermath of Ferguson and the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. And the OPD has long been the subject of controversy—they have been under federal oversight since a 2003 incident and court settlement involving corrupt tactics (the same kind of oversight that repugnant current Attorney General Jeff Sessions seeks to remove). The department is clearly bracing under the oversight by both the feds and new (and still current) tough-seeming mayor Libby Schaaf, so we mostly see them on their best behavior.

That said, we also witness body cam footage of questionable police shootings of civilians, including a horrifying clip of a man seen writhing, shot 13 times (he had a knife). The daily morning football chants and shouts of “We are warriors!” speak to a militarized culture Schaaf sums up as “toxic macho” in response to a late-breaking scandal involving sex favors from an underage girl that ensnared 16 OPD officers and lead to the forced resignation of Chief Sean Whent, a major presence here. Not as tough as classics like The Police Tapes or Frederick Wiseman’s Law and Order (partly because those got to even more toxic cultures first), The Force is still powerful, with Nicks bringing the same clear, equality-minded eye he showed in his 2012 doc The Waiting Room, about an Oakland safety net hospital. 

Published as part of BAMcinemaFest 2017 | Dispatch 1.