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AIFF Review: Pahokee

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Photo courtesy of AIFF

Pahokee documents the final year for high school seniors at Pahokee Junior/Senior High School in Florida, as it is experienced through four of the students; each with different paths, but similar hopes of leaving their hometown and circumstances to better themselves. In a town locally nicknamed “the muck” for its fertile black soil, where agriculture has been the mainstay for generations, the story braids ethnicities, culture and school popularity as it follows the triumphs and heartbreaks of football, Homecoming royalty and college possibilities.

Of Hispanic descent, Jocabed Martinez helps out in her parents’ taqueria as she works hard to keep good grades, and prove she is a “good daughter.”

Junior Walker, a father at age 18 and drum major for the marching band, tells of spoiling his one-year old daughter with anything she wants with all the money he dreams of making.

Na’kerria Nelson is a cheerleader wanting out of Pahokee, working part-time in a café and keeping intimate vlogs of her life.

Pro-football hopeful, BJ Crawford, works through college forms and football wins with his supportive parents, consistently praising God.

The population is primarily black and Hispanic, the school colors patriotically red, white and blue and vibrant against the tones of their skins. When the time comes for Jocabed, the graduating class’s salutatorian, to give thanks that her grandparents were able to travel from Mexico to watch her walk across the stage, the roar of the crowd reveals unmistakable support.

The take-away from the film is left to its observers. With no narration or music to affect, the focal point becomes the artistic layering and weaving of character, backdrop and story about the ebb and flow of high school life in these particular demographics, at times shockingly disrupted and unforeseen in the small town.

Directing/producing team, Ivete Lucas (Skip Day) and her partner, videographer Patrick Bresnan, expand their ‘observational’ style storytelling in Pahokee, their first feature length documentary. The editing creates a superb draw, helping sustain the film’s 2-hour length.

This is a film worth sitting for; the colors, places, people and Florida glades unfold into a setting for the soul. Lucas and Bresnan’s idea to capture the era in this landscape, without the need to traumatize the audience, feels good; the people are real, and the situations the film crew and townspeople go through, unexpectedly caught on film, are handled beautifully.

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