Editor’s Note: Behind the Lens is a digital video series featuring bold California indie filmmakers pushing the boundaries of their craft. Each episode captures the personal experiences that inform a filmmaker’s work and the risks they take to bring stories to the screen.
Documentary filmmaker Peter Nicks doesn’t hold any illusions that his work will save the world. For him, filmmaking is just one element of culture that slowly propels humanity forward, together.
So when Nicks directed The Force — the story of two turbulent years in the Oakland Police Department, filmed while embedded in its ranks — he did so with a stridently objective eye. The film premiered in 2017 at Sundance, where Nicks was awarded the Directing Award for U.S. Documentary, and broadcasts nationally this week on PBS’ Independent Lens.
The documentary is the second in a trilogy of films examining the city of Oakland through its public institutions, produced by Nick’s nonprofit Open’hood and inspired in part by the HBO series The Wire. (Nicks’ critically acclaimed The Waiting Room, told from inside Oakland’s Highland Hospital, was the first in the trilogy; he plans to embed in the city’s schools for the third.)
As filmmakers, Nicks and his team had unprecedented access to the OPD during filming, which began in 2014 as the Black Lives Matter movement emerged. “The department was trying to confront this problem of implicit bias,” Nicks says, “and at the same time trying to keep a city safe.”