Homeroom is the latest project from director Peter Nicks, following the 2019-20 school year at Oakland High School. This is the first documentary I’ve had the pleasure of watching at Sundance. In Homeroom, Nicks manages to provide an intimate look at the youth of Oakland and the struggles they go through. Moreover, elevating the narrative is the turbulent year that schools had to go through.
Oakland High School being policed is the main issue of Homeroom. The students in the film are against placement of police in their school. This is no small part due to the budget that could be implemented into the student success is instead being used for policing. Following students on the board, Homeroom takes a very interesting angle. Watching the students trying to reason and find common ground with their elders was difficult but powerful to watch. Seeing generational gaps on display in the doc was extremely interesting.
Societal issues, such as racism and police brutality are what you think would be considered timeless. However, they end up being disagreeing points between students and some faculty. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. The students are forced to deal with a chaotic start to their year with their struggles with the district. It’s an enticing start, a promise of a Documentary that could have had a different conclusion. That is, if Homeroom had been filmed in any other year.
Things take a turn when the COVID-19 pandemic hits and school shuts down. Students can now only meet online. It is a difficult time. Add to that the murder of George Floyd, and things explode. Nicks captures in real-time the effect the societal collapse has on these students. It is an extremely engaging documentary thanks to sharp editing.
Another extremely effective aspect of Homeroom is the use of social media. Nicks brings authenticity with posts and videos recorded by the students. It is an intimate portrait of their lives that works so well. The emotional journey Homeroom takes us on reflects how we all felt about 2020. The students’ problem with police at the beginning of the documentary comes full circle. Racism and injustice explode over to the issues with policing in the school. The students work even harder despite being apart. Together, they continue to work against policing.
The extreme change in circumstances for the documentary and its subjects must have been challenging. But Homeroom is stronger for it. Watching students take an active role in change and equality was, as I said many times in this review, powerful. Homeroom has nothing but powerful beats. In an unprecedented moment in time, Peter Nicks does justice to the stories of these students. The emotional lives of these young people are on full display. Featuring diversity and a vocal display that asks for change, Homeroom is an extremely powerful documentary. Watching the youth be ahead of the curve of the racial issues they would face later in the year was incredible. Homeroom is the perfect documentary to look back at as a time capsule into 2020. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Grade – 9/10
Homeroom is pending a wide release date. For more Sundance 2021 Coverage, keep an eye on our Twitter page and this site!