May 5, 2020  (Web Review)

Pahokee

Monument Releasing, 110 min., Virtual Release: $18.99, Apr. 24 (www.monumentreleasing.com/pahokee-theatrical)

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Aspirations run deep among the high school students at the heart of this nimble documentary, which traces the fortunes of four kids on the cusp of graduation in an impoverished Florida town. The predominantly African American and Latino student body can’t seem to catch a break: after winning a state championship, for instance, the school’s football team is stripped of the title because of a record-keeping error. But dreams prevail, as we see in the oft-disappointed individuals that filmmakers Ivete Lucas and Patrick Bresnan focus on. There’s the buoyant extrovert Na’Kerria, a cheerleader who loses the vote for homecoming queen but rebounds in time to meet recruiters from universities and the military. Jocabed is an honors student and helper at the taco stand run by her Mexican immigrant parents; she fears being rejected by colleges and mourns the many late nights her busy mom and dad were away at work. B.J. is a captain of that hard-luck football team, angling for a sports scholarship but pressured by his father to create a backup plan. Finally, Junior is the drum major for his school’s marching band, and a single parent devoted to his one-year-old daughter. Each of them will navigate a crooked path to some semblance of a future, which is not quite the story you’d expect in a place where expectations are iffy and gun violence can suddenly break out, as it unexpectedly does during a festive celebration for families at a neighborhood park. With an ever-present, rising cloud of smoke from fields of sugarcane burning on Pahokee’s outskirts, and under mesmerizing, bright orange skies above the Everglades, the sense of young lives reaching beyond one town’s limits is palpable. Strongly recommended. Aud: H, C, P. (T. Keogh)