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The Interrupters (2011)

Unrated | | Documentary, Crime | 12 August 2011 (UK)
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A year in the life of a city grappling with urban violence.

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(New York Times magazine article)
9 wins & 16 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Tio Hardiman ...
Himself
Ameena Matthews ...
Herself
Toya Batey ...
Herself
Cobe Williams ...
Himself
Gary Slutkin ...
Himself
Earl Sawyer ...
Himself
Bud Oliver ...
Himself
Kenneth Oliver ...
Himself
Caprysha Anderson ...
Heraelf
Sheikh Rasheed ...
Himself
Alfreda Williams ...
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Mildred Jones ...
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Mildred Williams ...
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Lillian 'Madea' Smith ...
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Rashida ...
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Storyline

The Interrupters tells the moving and surprising stories of three Violence Interrupters who try to protect their Chicago communities from the violence they once employed. From acclaimed director Steve James and bestselling author Alex Kotlowitz, this film is an unusually intimate journey into the stubborn, persistence of violence in our cities. Shot over the course of a year out of Kartemquin Films, The Interrupters captures a period in Chicago when it became a national symbol for the violence in our cities. During that period, the city was besieged by high-profile incidents, most notably the brutal beating of Derrion Albert, a Chicago High School student, whose death was caught on videotape. The film's main subjects work for an innovative organization, CeaseFire, which believes that the spread of violence mimics the spread of infectious diseases, and so the treatment should be similar: go after the most infected, and stop the infection at its source. The singular mission of the "... Written by Kartemquin Films

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Every City Needs Its Heroes

Genres:

Documentary | Crime

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Unrated | See all certifications »

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12 August 2011 (UK)  »

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Untitled Steve James Project  »

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Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$3,557 (USA) (5 August 2011)

Gross:

$282,448 (USA) (17 February 2012)
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The film is Steve James' sixth feature length collaboration with his long-time filmmaking home, the non-profit Chicago production studio Kartemquin Films, and is also his fifth feature to screen at the Sundance Film Festival. See more »

Connections

Featured in Ebert Presents: At the Movies: Episode #2.12 (2011) See more »

Soundtracks

Piece of Me
Written by Klas Ahlund (as Klas Frans Ahlund), Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg
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Profiles in courage
6 February 2012 | by See all my reviews

Chicago, Baltimore, Oakland, Detroit – synonyms for American crime, places where young men kill one another in the streets. Bleak background noise in the national news, with dim flares of outrage at especially gruesome killings.

On the subject of solutions, our imaginations are dismally poor and usually limited to applying money or violence in some form. More police, more arrests, longer sentences, talk of the National Guard on the streets.

The Interrupters seem to have a better gimmick. The violence prevention group CeaseFire recruited a group of tattooed ex-gang-members in Chicago, most of whom turned away from crime after cooling off in hospitals or prisons. They know the locals, and they have credibility where cops, teachers and politicians don't.

The film follows several of them: a tough gang heiress turned devout Muslim, an imposing man with several prison terms for drugs and violence, and a soft-spoken Latino out after serving 14 years for murder. Interrupters are, in effect, roaming street counselors; unlike the armchair type, they usually find themselves between two or more people who are about to begin stabbing one another. They are to ordinary counselors what BASE jumpers are to people who feel proud of taking stairs.

The rare and valuable insight of the film is how, over the course of a year, the counselors manage to talk down people who're about to do horrible things, and how these people arrive at such a place to begin with. None of them are remorseless sociopaths, and none of them appear to want or relish violence. They want the best for themselves, they value their families, and yet some have come to the verge of actual fratricide. Why? Hopelessness, poor impulse control, lack of role models, a gang tribalism that feeds on vacuum and anarchy.

It's amazing how many fights and murders aren't motivated by gain. They're essentially the result of undereducated boys applying the Cheney Doctrine every day on street level – "get them before they get you." On these streets, nobody trusts each other, everybody is armed and nobody is willing to back down from a fight. Tempers can flare instantly, and the killers are often as baffled by their own crimes as anybody else.

Somehow, the Interrupters pull young people out of this mindset. It takes a heroic amount of trust and patience. It doesn't work all the time. But it works way more often than one imagines it should.

There is a large and influential contingent in our country which holds that the only solution to inner-city violence is to tighten the screws even further. To their Klingon eyes, the CeaseFire approach probably looks like so much liberal mollycoddling of people who just ought to have their heads busted on the pavement more often. One of the thicker ironies of "The Interrupters" is that this Old Testament law enforcement mentality comes from precisely the same place as the bloody retaliations and preemptive violence by South Side gang-bangers.

I listened to the young ruffians, and heard the words of steely-eyed Giulianis: not backing down, not showing weakness, getting tough, getting serious, showing them who's boss. Once you realize that "tough on crime" politicians count on the same tactics to intimidate gangs that gangs use to intimidate one another, you may recognize the same lustful rage in yourself as well, and subside to embarrassed head-scratching.

The Interrupters talk about the legal trickery of being involved in potential crimes, and sometimes the organization has no choice but to get law enforcement on the case. However, their strength is not in meting out punishment, but understanding – and it's astonishing to see violent young toughs respond and open up. Even with all the money, cops and technology that America can scratch together, maybe the best way to solve social problems is still through one person talking to another.


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