Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018
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“How Could A Department Fail So Horribly But Also Be Making Progress At The Same Time?” Interview With THE FORCE Director Peter Nicks

Arlin Golden spoke with THE FORCE director Peter Nicks about Oakland Police Department, and everything that's wrong and right with American police.

Interview With THE FORCE Director Peter Nicks

Like most issues these days, there is very little middle ground in the opinions about modern day policing. Either they’re a public good, keep communities safe from those who would do them harm, or they’re the harm, terrorizing and murdering individuals with little regard for the consequence, since they usually aren’t felt personally. The new documentary The Force (my review here) aims to insert some nuance back into that conversation, shining a light on the human element of this persistent and monolithic institution.

Director Peter Nicks, coming off of The Waiting Room, the first film in what is to be a trilogy of documentaries about public institutions as experienced in Oakland, embedded himself with the OPD for two years. His deft eye captured police training, beat work, and high-level conversations before being confronted with one of the biggest scandals in modern US policing, and earned him Best Documenary Director honors when the film premiered at Sundance in January.

Nicks was nice enough to speak to me about the film (as well as shame me for the holes in my cop-movie repertoire) at his office in downtown Oakland.


Arlin Golden for Film Inquiry: Congratulations on a great film! I’m wondering if you can tell me a little about how you made the transition from producing and editing for TV to becoming a theatrical documentarian?

Peter Nicks: I went to the J-school at Cal,  which is a journalism program, and Frontline had a West Coast office over there at the time, so actually my first job coming out of grad school was working for Frontline. And then I just had done an internship at ABC, so then after the Frontline I did a bunch of stuff for PBS and I eventually got a job at ABC. And they had a documentary unit over there, but it was kind of tricky to get into, you know, because everybody wanted to kind of do that. So I was there, this was in 2002, 2003 and I just started getting itchy, like I really wanted to make a film. You know, I thought originally I was going to go into narrative fiction film, because I was a creative writing major in college and went to Howard.

So I’ve always kind of had that love for film, you know, really going deep  into character and into sort of complexity and something that’s just harder to do with shorter form journalism, whether it’s…you know you can you can do it with maybe long form magazine writing, but with the type of television that I was doing it was more of a journalistic sort of framework and approach that was a little bit more informational. Whereas I was interested a lot more in sort of the complexity of humanity and character and things that I think are much more amenable to film .

So I, around 2005, I kind of made the decision to make the break, much to the chagrin of my wife, we had two kids at the time, leaving a somewhat high paying job working for ABC. And it wasn’t easy! Like I kicked around for a couple of years trying to re-orient myself because I left in the Bay Area and went to New York, then I came back to the Bay Area and was trying to insert myself into the indie film scene and trying to work shoots, because I shoot too. It was just hard.

So I actually ended up working for a couple startups doing media and then it was at my second startup that The Waiting Room, the opportunity for that came into my life, and from there was no looking back. I fell in love with the whole process of just putting together a film and finding the funders, the supporters…

You like that part?

Peter Nicks: Actually I’m good at it, you know? I mean I would like it because it is really hard, it’s especially hard on the back end of the film when all these funders want reports like “how’d you spend our money? and did it make an impact?” So actually, I just want to tell stories. So that part does kind of…it sucks. But I found that I was pretty good at it, and I particularly enjoyed the deep dive. And that’s actually what The Waiting Room is when I conceived – I’ve always been a big fan of The Wire – conceived this idea of one American city and really unpacking it. And I figured Oakland is a great city to do that.

All these issues that Oakland is dealing with – health care access, criminal justice system, education, housing – these are all issues that the country is talking about on a big level. So I felt that it was a great stage for doing a series of films. So I started Open’hood with the idea that we’d do at least a trilogy of films looking at the interconnected narratives of our public institutions, kind of like updating sort of what Frederick Wiseman did in the 60s and 70s.

Yeah, since you brought him up…I mean, I’ve seen you oft-compared to Wiseman. His earliest films covered a lot of the same institutions you’re looking at; specifically with The Force, Law and Order.

Right.

I’m wondering what you see the changes are in policing between his film and yours in the decades that have ensued?

Peter Nicks: You know I think it’s really fascinating. We watched Law and Order, just same thing we did with Hospital. We sort of said “how did he approach it?” And this was 30, 40 years ago, and it was really fascinating to see some of the similarities actually between the..really the underlying conditions of our society have not changed. The things around the periphery of change sort of, if you think about the tech industry and sort of like wealth, and the housing boom, and all the things that have benefited a relatively small group of people, but the police aren’t dealing with them, for the most part.

Public hospitals aren’t dealing with them. Maybe the occasional entrepreneur who’s lost their job, or whatever, but no, I mean you look at it from Ford to Carter to Reagan, Bush, Clinton, back to Bush, Obama. Trump. Poverty has been persistent. Access to health care has been a challenge for certain members of society. The achievement gap in education has, if anything, gotten worse; there was something out of the New York Times that showed white and asian going up and black and hispanic going down. So that’s an underlying theme of our work.

Thinking about Wiseman, Public Housing or Hospital or Law and Order, the social conditions that led to the complexity and the challenges that those institutions faced is still present. It’s still present. And now it’s actually gotten more complex due to the… I think the Internet to some degree has supported it. But the activism and the engagement… The ability for citizens to engage and push back is a relatively new thing. It’s a relatively new thing. So that’s where our story kind of picked up and that’s what sort of gave a different dimension to our story, is this new activism and this notion of a voice being present; whereas, you know, when Wiseman made Law and Order, all those people that were in his film, for the most part, didn’t have a voice.

Part of that pushback, I feel…you hear one of the police academy trainers talking about the phone camera and how that’s sort of a tool for citizen activists now. I’m wondering…you’re coming in with a film camera and how do you sort of – I don’t know if you have to ingratiate yourself – but cops are notoriously wary of being filmed,  so how did you navigate that whole situation?

Peter Nicks: We had to distrust not just from the police, but from activists, because we’re getting out of police cars with a camera. So we had people filming me, taking my picture, trying to create narratives around me that had nothing to do with reality. You know because it is an “us versus them” kind of thing out there, among some people. Not all. The people who are most vocal tend to be fairly single minded in their activism and there’s not a ton room for someone like me to go and say “I want to do a sort of non-judgemental film about the police.” To some people that that just sounds like that’s just going to be propaganda.

So we had to continually question ourselves, question what we were seeing, try to be as true to what we were seeing as possible and really question, also, “what is the truth?” Because some of the stuff is so subtle and happens in ways that aren’t seen. If you talk about implicit bias or racist attitudes that cops may hold that they’re not even aware of, that come out in the uses of force that they’re not even aware of, it is unjust. And that the criminal justice system seems to be having a really hard time making sense of which officers to hold accountable, which to incarcerate, which to lock up. So I think for us we had to do some communication definitely within the department to try to build that trust, but also within the community, to say “look you need to trust us too, we’re not here to make a commercial for the OPD.”

That was actually the more difficult conversation. particularly with the hardcore. I mean, you’ve got…activists aren’t monolithic. Even within Black Lives Matter it’s not monolithic. You’ve got Antifa, you’ve got the Black Block, you’ve got Anarchists, you’ve got, you know, citizens who show up to city hall … there’s such a vast spectrum of how people voice their opinions on this issue with the cops. We were very clear like “we’re here to tell your story and we believe that your story has been flattened into a two dimensional narrative that’s probably unfair, but we’re also not going to pull any punches, we’re going to tell it like we see it.”

Like we we were very clear about that. I think for some that didn’t sit well, you know, because they just believe that you’ve got an agenda. It’s like, you’ve heard the story of The Spook Who Sat By the Door. You know this notion of “you somehow got in here and you’re going to take us down.” And so we just had to continually try to communicate our values as storytellers and also point back to our prior work and also communicate to the community at large, “hey, we actually value activism, and  we we value different perspectives on this, and there should be different perspectives on this issue.”

But how many crews are going to be embedded inside of a police department? We need to see that for our democracy to remain healthy; we need access to these institutions and the average person doesn’t have the ability to go and see “All right, these are cops saying they’re reforming. What does that look like?” And that’s really why we wanted to make the film.

So when you say your initial intention was to go in and make a non-judgemental film about OPD, you know, when you get towards the end of the film and you’re getting in 2016…

Peter Nicks: Well it wasn’t that we didn’t want to make a non-judgemental film, it’s that we didn’t want to go into the process of judgment. You know what I’m saying? There’s a distinction, I think sometimes I phrased it wrong, because the film is judgmental. Because because the film makes a very very sharp judgment on the sort of moral fabric of the Department, on the institutional framework. But what I like to say is in terms of my processes, is it’s like aggressive open-mindedness, you know?

But that’s going in. And then our responsibility once we’re in is to synthesize what we’re seeing in a way that  we believe reflects reality. And, you know, you get into sort of like a wormhole, like “what does that mean?” Because my reality is different than your reality is different than her reality. But we felt we wanted to render the experience. Just the act of being embedded inside of a police department is rare. And I think it brings you to closer to the truth.

Because…you’re there! You’re seeing things that people don’t see. So our responsibility was to reflect on what we were experiencing. Because of the nature of our team, people come from different spectrums politically and racially, in terms of their background. And so we brought that to bear. I have my producer Linda Davis, and my editor Lawrence Lerew, my executive producer John Else…really that collaboration allows lots of discussion about…”what did we see today? The footage we shot, what does it mean? What does it mean to me? What does it mean to you? What does it mean to you?” That process helps kind of shake out something that we feel is closer to a version of the truth, if that makes any sense.

For sure! So as that scandal was hitting…you know, you obviously have to cover it but it’s… you’re getting something that’s getting national coverage now, it’s much more macro. It wasn’t really this intimate look inside the force anymore.

Right right right.

Did you feel at all that your narrative was getting hijacked?

Peter Nicks: Yeah. (laughs) It did get hijacked! It did. At one point we thought about not including it, and we just concluded that it would be impossible not to include it. We thought about potentially doing sit down interviews and trying to fully unpack it, but then we would have been making the film just about that. And we literally were at the end of the process. We had run out of money. We would have had to wait another year, probably, for the film to come out.

Interview With THE FORCE Director Peter Nicks

source: Open’hood

And we just made the decision that what we captured would be included in a sort of stretch of time, and that’s what we reframed the film as. That this was two years after Ferguson, following following a police department trying to reform. In all of its messiness. And some of that messiness came into the actual narrative itself, in the film itself. You’re kind of like whipped out into the third act with this twist that’s like, you know…whatever! People love twists. This is like a whole different thing, almost.

So we, in the end, just like went with that, and it was definitely after much discussion, and it’s going to sit with different audiences in different ways. Some people are going to want more answers and conclusions. And some people actually revel in that sort of ambiguity and that tends to skew more toward what we like, which is which is the ambiguity. Yeah. I’ll leave it at that. (laughs)

Yeah, as you’ve shown the film at different festivals to different audiences away from the Bay Area…  when I saw it back in April, living in Oakland the past five years…I was sort of waiting for it. Is it a surprise as you’re taking it around to audiences across the country? Do people not really know about it? How was that received?

Peter Nicks: I think there were varying levels of awareness of what happened. For the most part I think people are shocked.

I can imagine!

It’s showed at True/False in Columbia, Missouri or in Cleveland. There’s shock on the one hand, but then there’s like a recognition on the other hand. Particularly in cities like Cleveland that’ve dealt with things like Tamir Rice, cases of questionable use of force. They’ve been grappling with it. What was ironic about our film was that to this scandal was about something else! It wasn’t news for…I mean it was an abuse of power.

But it wasn’t this question of, sort of, implicit bias and racism, and use of force that is really kind of at the center of… it’s more about morality. And it’s almost like sin, morality and sin, you know? And that’s why we have some of the imagery in the film at the end; the cross and this idea of human nature and human sin. How do you regulate that? How do you reform that? It’s impossible! And that undid this department that was really making progress and that that was one of the things that we found to be profound about the story, is that you can do everything right and then along comes the grim reaper.

And then that the chief himself who is a reformer who is making progress, makes a bad decision…

Yea, you kind of feel for him.

Peter Nicks: Well, it’s a Shakespearean tragedy. So I think audiences are kind of shocked to see it unfold in that way. And I think this hasn’t played in Oakland, so on the 15th, that’ll be the first one. And so it’ll be interesting. That’s probably gonna be a packed house at the Grand Lake Theater. I would check that out if you’re remotely interested, because that’s going to be a unique experience.

I’m going to be there for sure.

Yeah.

So since we’re on the topic of Oakland, going back to what you were talking about The Wire… I think a lot of people who see this film are going to see further evidence of a broken institution. And I’m wondering what in The Force you think is unique maybe to the OPD, and what is applicable to departments across the country?

Peter Nicks: I mean, the OPD has a particular history as it relates to this gulf between the African-American community and the institution that ostensibly exist to keep them safe. I think the OPD, going back to the Panthers, has been a troubled institution. I don’t think that that’s unique, per se, to Oakland. What happened in Oakland was unique in terms of the birth of both the Panthers and Black Lives Matter, which started in Oakland.

But I think that has more to do with the sort of makeup of the city itself. But I think that the dynamic of what occurs in Oakland, the distrust between the African-American community and the cops, and the treatment by the cops, the treatment how the cops treat the African-American community is, as we’re seeing, very common.

I think the underlying theme of the trilogy, and I think the underlying theme of…not all of, but a lot of Wiseman‘s work is poverty. And this is something, again, going back to Ford to Carter to Reagan to Bush to Clinton back to Bush to Obama  to Trump, that has remained a constant. And those consequences reveal themselves in the sharpness of a bullet, the quickness of a bullet, but also in the creeping damage that’s done to students who aren’t supported by their teachers. That is done to people who just want to be healthy, you know? There are studies that show that doctors spend less time on black cancer patients, that they perceive African-Americans as having a higher pain threshold. This is what I describe as the slow bullet.

So we can focus on officers violating people’s civil rights and using force unnecessarily, but I think there are underlying realities that create situations that destroy the agency at a far greater scale. Part of what I think I’m trying to do with the trilogy is shine a light on the need to stay vigilant. When we see a problem with our public institution, whether it’s a public hospital or a school or a police department we need to look at the underlying realities.

That’s where it gets tricky in terms of…not that you want to sympathize with the police, but if you look at the cop’s shoes you’re seeing and dealing with everyday the consequences of that, of national policies that have persisted for generations. And the cops see a very narrow band of the community. They’re not, for the most part, dealing with the folks who are black kids who are going to Harvard and Stanford. Maybe they’ll profile them! That will happen. That does happen. But from what I experienced in those two years, like these 911 calls and domestic violence calls I’ve been on, it’s just like…it’s pretty disheartening, you know?

And so they just get…cops get a very distorted sense of who the community is. A very distorted sense. There’s a greater community out there who’s going to work every day, may not have a ton of money, but sending their kids to school, going to work going to church, who don’t interact with the cops. They’re African-American, they’re Hispanic, they’re Southeast Asian or white. And that really is the vast majority of the city. The cops aren’t talking to them for the most part, hearing from them, seeing them. They’re dealing with violence violence or dealing with drugs or drug addicts, they’re dealing with the mentally ill. They’re dealing with broken families, things that cops can’t address, they can’t solve those problems.

So that was one of the things that we were also trying to point out with the film, trying to take into that perspective. Not to excuse officers for their behavior but to sort of contextualize things.

I think the film does a great job of that, and obviously you know the vehicle for that is Officer Cairo, for the most part, who’s this sort of relatable human figure in the film, you know. When people talk about good cops, it’s probably someone like Cairo you imagine.

Yeah.

But late in the film there’s a community activist arguing that there are no good cops.

Right.

Specifically related to the scandal. You know, even if you weren’t involved, if you knew, you’re complicit. I’m wondering if you ever actually had a chance to ask Cairo if he had any awareness of what was going on in the department?

Peter Nicks: Yeah, I mean, we had lots of conversations with him about it. And I think he carried himself in a manner in the film that does suggest that he’s trying hard to do his job the right way. But I think it depends on who you ask. Some people perceive that scene where the woman got hit by the car and her brother was upset and he kind of defused the situation. Some people see him being an asshole in that situation, he pulled his taser out and pointed it at him. Others see him as defusing the situation, could’ve gone sideways, you know?

Interview With THE FORCE Director Peter Nicks

source: Open’hood

He was involved in the shooting of the guy who pulled out the replica gun; some people have a serious problem with that. So he exists in a sort of context that is ambiguous. And I think a lot of the officers exist in that sort of context. And when you when you speak to officers like Cairo, and I’m not going to speak for Cairo, but I think when you start talking to these officers, the gulf between sort of how they see themselves and how others see them is revealed. And I think they express a lot of frustration in that, because they perceive themselves as going every day to work to save lives, not to take them away and you know large large segments of the community see it see it the opposite way.

So I think cops in general have a hard time with the Black Lives Matter movement and they tend to drift toward the argument of “what about African-Americans killing each other? They do it at far greater rates than we’re killing them and when we kill them we think we’re killing them because we have to.” And so that sort of disconnect between those two narratives is pretty profound, even amongst cops who seem like they’re well intentioned. You start talking to cops and pretty quickly you realize that they see this differently, you know?

So I think part of what we’re trying to do with the film is to open up those conversations and challenge cops to understand the narratives of communities, of the African-American community. I grew up in the black church and so I know stories that are told over and over. Tuskegee, you know, the syphilis experiments and things that have been done to African-Americans: lynchings, the civil rights movement, with the cops sicking dogs on protesters; all of these stories have been told and retold over and over and over again. Cops I don’t think have a full appreciation…even black cops! When you become a cop, like, you switch, you know?

Right. Well you internalize that implicit bias that must be all around you, I imagine.

Peter Nicks: Yeah I mean I think we all have implicit bias. I mean, it comes out in different ways, and this goes back to the little black girl who picks the white doll. It’s embedded in our media, it’s unfortunate. It’s changing and we’re working to change that and I think cops, because they can take your life, that’s a lot different than a black girl picking a white doll.

The impact of that is that… our prejudice, you know, manifests itself in different ways. I think cops are the touchpoint of those consequences because of the depth of the consequence, which is the taking of a life. But they see it on the flip side too, which is “if I don’t act and then we get in a situation where someone harms somebody else…” that narrative has been well-trodden as well.

So we’re trying to sort of reconcile these two different realities that there still is violence in our communities, that’s there, gun violence is a big issue in our country. Drugs are a big issue in our country…mental illness. Addiction and mental illness lead to a lot of these police interactions that turn violent. It’s not necessarily the cops fault. It’s the cops fault if he or she makes the wrong decision. And I think that’s what people are saying, is that that’s what they signed up for. There are drug addicted people, there are violent people, there are mentally ill people, they should be able to handle that in a way that’s constitutional and within the bounds of human and civil rights. That’s the debate.

Stepping back a minute, you mentioned shooting your films. I’m noticing a lot of close ups and I’m wondering where that instinct comes from and how you feel it’s supports your storytelling?

Peter Nicks: I’ve just always liked close ups, I think a lot is revealed through your face and your eyes and it’s an intimacy that I think brings you into someone’s space. It’s always appropriate. I think as a filmmaker you have to make decisions about framing all the time. I think those decisions play a lot into how the characters are perceived, what the point of your story. In fiction film, of course, you have all the time in the world to design that. In documentary you have to make very split second decisions about “what are you trying to communicate? What’s happening in that moment? Is there something that needs to be seen in a wide shot that would that would help with the scene? Is this about the face?” And so if you look at all the shots there is a variety of framings that, in theory…each have each have a purpose, and I’d have to go through the film.

Sometimes it’s more serendipity, less with close ups, usually close ups are intentional, but sometimes you just can’t get close,  so you’re stuck with a wide shot, because you’re across the street or something and there’s nothing to be done. Usually closeups are a choice, and the choice has to do with trying to capture something that’s not being said. Trying to capture the non-verbals, the deeper level of understanding of what that person is going through at the moment; whether it’s pain or humor or awareness. So that’s really kind of how I’d describe that.

Interview With THE FORCE Director Peter Nicks

source: Open’hood

So late in the film Mayor Schaff is talking about this culture of toxic masculinity, and there are some scenes early on in the film that I think, you know, really had that on display. And we see it through the closeups. I’m thinking specifically of that sort of smoke training?

Yeah, yeah.

And then also there’s that discussion around that guy that got shot 13 times during the academy, and they’re all talking over the black female trainee and you see the exasperation on her face. As you’re filming that, and witnessing that, you know, did you have any inkling that maybe something’s amiss? Were you not surprised when the scandal broke? You know you say like “that fits”?

Peter Nicks: I mean, I was both shocked and not surprised at the same time, if that makes any sense. I mean, it’s just like I was watching Smokey and the Bandit with my son a few weeks ago and there’s the scene where the prostitutes have that trailer…I don’t know if you’ve seen it, have you seen Smokey and the Bandit?

I haven’t seen it.

You haven’t seen Smokey and the Bandit??

I got to see it, I guess!

Oh my god! How old are you?

I’m 29.

Oh you’re 29, that’s why. Yeah, it’s before your time. No, you got to go back and see Smokey and the Bandit. But you know, it’s been happening forever, cops sleeping with prostitutes. It’s like…they’re so close to it. This is the thing, it’s like vice. The cops use drugs, cops drink a lot.

Well, in Vegas aren’t they allowed to sleep with the prostitute before making the arrest?

Peter Nicks: Yeah! If they’re doing undercover work, right? So it’s like they’re so close to this stuff, is it any surprise that a cop would do drugs? So that in itself didn’t shock me, but it was still a punch to the gut after we had spent two years really getting closer and closer to this department. Really! You know, you can’t help but sort of empathize more deeply with someone that you know better.

Of course.

Cannot help it. And so that when that occurred it was a punch to the gut. I felt kind of like…I felt betrayed, to be totally honest. Because I had gone out of my way to work to tell the story of these officers, arguing with my friends, many of whom are activists, that “cops are trying, this is a progressive department, you’ve got to give them a chance, you have to see another side.” You know, I can’t tell you how many of these conversations I’ve had, Right?

So for this to happen after I’d gone out of my way to try to humanize these cops felt like a punch got to me and a betrayal. I was pissed. You know then I just started thinking about “man, this is kind of what we’re we’re up against.” Then I was thinking, like, “what could have prevented this from happening?” This is going to happen again.

We’re not going to prevent, you know…a priest will sleep with a 12 year old boy, again. These things cut to the core of our humanity and speak to issues of sin, sort of very deep questions of our failures as human beings. I think we all know that that exists, but I think leadership, and sort of checks and balances, and oversight, and this gets into the great debate between liberals and conservatives, of the role of oversight and regulation in our society. And you know I think this film raises some really serious questions of the ongoing need for regulation and oversight. You know, if it were not for the federal monitor that was in place, this scandal wouldn’t have even come to light, according to the investigation.

So there was a report that there was an investigation that was ordered into the scandal and how it was handled. So that came out recently so we had to change the end of our film to basically let the audience know. Brings a little bit more closure to it. So I think you know I think that that was kind of profound, that was kind of profound for me, having gone through that process to have that happen so late in making the film. I can’t remember what your original question was that led to this answer…

This was my second time watching the film. And as I rewatch those early scenes it felt almost like foreshadowing…

Peter Nicks: I mean you always know that there’s the potential, and you know, I did get some uneasiness, sort of, being in the academy and seeing some of the defensiveness of the police. Like a lack of recognition of the potential for this stuff. I think it made me wonder like “man, is this training correct? Are they doing the correct things in the training?” A lot of what you saw in the film is that very thing. Like “here’s the history. Here are the things we need to get real about.” Race. Implicit bias. All these things.

But in private conversations with the cops, I mean, quickly you’ll find a dismissiveness of it because of what they in then turn and face when they go out on the job. And this is the idea of Training Day. Which I hope you’ve seen Training Day.

I’m failing you left and right here.

You haven’t seen Training Day??

No…

Oh my God. You need to go watch Training Day. Shit! I mean, that’s like, the classic…

I was on with Wiseman! I got the doc stuff, I’m a doc guy…

Peter Nicks: You got that, that was good, that was good. But Training Day is all about that rookie coming up, being trained up, and then he goes out. And then Denzel Washington is like the cop, he’s like Colonel Kurtz, kind of like, he’s crazy, you know? But it’s a caricature, but it’s true. It’s like when you hit the streets, you see this shit is like a different game, it’s like a different deal, and you have to handle situations and it’s not always cut and dry. And so that made me a little bit uneasy. And it’s just so hard to recruit a high quality level of recruits for the academy.

I mean they got a sign hanging off the side of the highway! You know? It just seems like they’ll take whoever.

Peter Nicks: I know! Yeah. And I think you’re getting a lot of people who come in with problems, and get some war vets who come in with PTSD. The cop who who committed suicide, who was having sex with this girl, that led to this whole thing…he was a war vet, you know. Mental health issues, killed himself. There’ve been a number of suicides.

So you know we felt that. But we also saw a remarkable amount of progress, real reforms that were taking place. The body worn camera program, they were way ahead on that. One of the first in the country, if not the first in the country, to implement department wide body worn cameras. Officer involved shootings are way down if you look at an eight year period. There was a cluster when we filmed, but that was just a cluster, and all those men were armed. There was the one who fell between the buildings, but, you know…stops…racial profiling is down. So there’s all these metrics that have moved in the right direction. That’s why they were so close to coming out from under the federal monitor. So that’s true at the same time.

So these these things are… it’s really hard to hold these things simultaneously next to each other, like how could a department fail so horribly but also be making progress at the same time? How is that possible? What does that mean? So I think what we’re asking audiences to do is to consider that. A lot of work around the film is going to have to be sort of beyond the screenings, curriculum and framing devices, discussion with the community, we’re hoping to have a bunch of community discussions.

Is that through Cinereach?

Peter Nicks: Well, they’re one of our most engaged funders, and they have funded some of our outreach initiatives and we’re working with Blueshift to do outreach strategy for the film. They’ve worked the number one films. Ideally you want to see in high schools and curriculum and you want it in police academies. So we’re hoping that all that will come together.

Great! Well, here’s hoping. And I think it’s definitely got the potential, expecting a lot of conversations around it in the coming weeks around its release.

Peter Nicks: Yeah, it’s going to be interesting to see.


The Force opens today, September 15, in the Bay Area before expanding nationally. Check the film’s website to see where it’s playing at a theater near you.

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Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

Arlin is originally from Chicago, IL and currently resides in Oakland, CA. Receiving his BA in Film Studies in 2010, he is a failed rapper who works in film distribution. Among his non-cinematic interests are biking, playing basketball, record collecting, and breakfast cereal. He is still processing the new season of Twin Peaks and hopes one day that the world recognizes the many values of the Siesta system.

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