Hot Docs 2017: Our Review of ‘The Force’

Posted in Festival Coverage, Hot Docs 2017, Movies by - May 05, 2017
Hot Docs 2017: Our Review of ‘The Force’

“The past stole your identity and it has run up an incredibly high bill” advises then police chief Sean Whent to a group of police academy students. The past he is referring to is the 40-year history of police misconduct and civil rights abuse that the Oakland Police Department have been involved in. Their actions were so vile that they not only lost the trust of the community, but also led to the force being placed under federal oversight in 2003.

Forced to reform, and with civilian movements like #BlackLivesMatter demanding more accountability from law enforcement, the Oakland Police Department was determined to become a more transparent organization. However, how does one manufacture change when the problem is a systemic one? This is the central question of Peter Nicks’ blistering film The Force.

Taking an observational approach to the department’s attempt to reform, Nicks provides a tense and stunning look at everything from the police academy training sessions to daily life on patrol to the chief’s interactions with the media. Interspersed throughout are the reactions of an increasingly frustrated community and their grassroots activism efforts.

The thing with transparency is, once the curtain is removed it is hard to hide how dirty the house really is. Does clean up start with the new recruits who are divided over whether it’s warranted to immobilize a suspect with a knife by shooting him thirteen times? Or does accountability begin with the police chief and trickle down?

Nicks’ mesmerizing film reinforces that there are no simple answers when it comes to policing in America, but it’s clear that the abuse of power is systemic. The Force asks us to take a deeper look at all the areas that are broken, if we truly hopes to fix the culture of law enforcement.

The Force plays Hot Docs again on:
Sunday, May 7, 1:30 PM, Isabel Bader

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Courtney has been sharing his thoughts on film online since 2006. The founder of Cinema Axis, he frequently celebrates diversity in cinema as one of the co-hosts of the Changing Reels podcast on Modern Superior. A regular on the Regent Radio program Frameline, Courtney has contributed to several publications including Black Girl Nerds, Comix Asylum Magazine and The Grid Does TIFF. He is also a member of both the Canadian Association of Online Film Critics and the Online Film Critics Society.