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The Interrupters (2011)

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A year in the life of a city grappling with urban violence.



(New York Times magazine article)
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Tio Hardiman ...
Ameena Matthews ...
Toya Batey ...
Cobe Williams ...
Gary Slutkin ...
Earl Sawyer ...
Bud Oliver ...
Kenneth Oliver ...
Caprysha Anderson ...
Sheikh Rasheed ...
Alfreda Williams ...
Mildred Jones ...
Mildred Williams ...
Lillian 'Madea' Smith ...
Rashida ...


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

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Every City Needs Its Heroes


Documentary | Crime


Unrated | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

12 August 2011 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

Untitled Steve James Project  »

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Box Office

Opening Weekend:

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


$282,448 (USA) (17 February 2012)

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Did You Know?


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 »


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


Fun of the Fair
Written and Performed by Annabel Dudley
Courtesy of 5 Alarm Music
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"It's a warzone and an epidemic"
8 March 2013 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Steve James' documentary The Interrupters opens with audio taken from several different Chicago news sources, reporting "x" number of people murdered in the city, and how an outbreak of gun violence has ripped apart the area as a whole. We then cut to a volunteer organization that takes the courageous act of stepping in at the sight of conflict amongst gang-members, and works to try and prevent yet another death in a city so consumed by heinous crimes. This group is called "the Interrupters," and for the next two hours we witness their invaluable actions.

The Interrupters work for an organization called "CeaseFire," and its members are comprised of former gang-members; a positive, being that since they are still young, they can speak the language of the gangs and recall the motives of an underprivileged teenager. While they work entirely for the area of Chicago, much of their time is devoted to bettering Englewood, one of the most broken cities in the entire nation. 98% of Englewood residents are black, with the main age demographic being people under the thirty. With a 25.8% unemployment rate (which has now risen to 44%, roughly two years after the release of this film), the townspeople look towards a life of gangs as a way to earn respect, money, territory, and get a quick-fix for violence and danger. This makes the area especially dangerous, not just for the gang-members of opposing territories, but the residents who want no part in the crime world. Whether you're a gang-member on the front lines of violence, a passive resident, a bystander, or even a young child you're a potential victim to a senseless problem.

One of the leading violence interrupters is a bright, young woman named Ameena Mathews. Once an active gang-member, she has since married, converted to being a Muslim, and works to travel around the community promoting a truce and a compromise between opposing forces. When she bravely lectures in the middle of thirty or so gang-members about how there's no reason at all to be dealing or discussing potential crimes when children are arriving home from school, the petite woman herself is open to almost anything. Steve James and his camera crew are as well. Yet Mathews boldly preaches her gospel before traveling on to continue doing more work.

Frequently, CeaseFire will hold fiery roundtable meetings, where group members will discuss what fight/argument they've broken up since the last meeting and what leads do they have on any further gang activity. During these meetings, despite several dozens of Interrupters being on the job and prepared for just about anything, it's when we see how grossly outnumbered they are. Keep in mind, Chicago isn't just Englewood, and with a population of over 3,000,000 citizens, the per-capita rate of the CeaseFire members is and will always remain outnumbered. This doesn't make their efforts any less commendable, but with over 500 homicides taken place in a city so torn in 2012, there needs to be more recruiting and soon. How much longer can a city be referred to as names like "Chiraq," and boast a statistic that states it is more violent than Iraq and Afghanistan? Aesthetically, The Interrupters is extraordinary, with several long-shots of the crisp, yet crumbling Chicagoland area. Scarcely has a documentary about going into a real issue been so engrossing visually. Yet what truly makes The Interrupters the captivating, multi-layered documentary that it is is the way it conducts its subjects. Too often do I see documentaries take the path of a scare-tactic gift-wrapped as a formal piece of information. Here, we are presented with nothing but the true homelives of these troubled teenagers and adults, who are not only bearing hard circumstances on their shoulders, but misguided direction, societal neglect, negative perceptions, and shallow stereotypes. Think about the way white people are often associated with being wealthy, pure, and successful, while black people often associated with being deviant, rude, and obnoxious. Are these stereotypes shaping us or are we shaping our stereotypes? This is a bolder question from a documentary, asked naturally, that for once doesn't come from a glaring, empty statistic.

One of the smaller, yet more relevant details the film goes into is the significance of rival-gangs and how integrating them in hopes of a "melting pot"-like effect is purely hopeless on all accounts. This is shown when Carver High School, a populated urban school, was rebranded as a military academy, it forced many kids to move to a nearby neighborhood and attend Fenger High School. Carver and Fenger have a notorious gang rivalry occurring, and not long after the schools were integrated, a teenager named Derrion Albert was brutally beaten to death and the beating was captured on a cell phone to be viewed on Youtube.

James, who made Hoop Dreams, which is often hailed as one of the best pieces of documentary filmmaking ever, lived a full year in Chicago, and witnessed unforeseeable acts of not just despair and ugliness, but also true bravery. Being in the line of gunfire and danger numerous times, and filming highly-graphic footage with true documentarian impunity shows not only devotion but true commitment to a job. The Interrupters was also co-produced by sociologist Alex Kotlowitz, who wrote the popular novel "There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America," a profoundly eye-opening book on the lives of inner-city children who live in public housing projects.

This is a powerhouse documentary in every sense of the word, emotional, exhilarating, heart-wrenching, and often, very melancholic. It shows that while there's a silver lining of hope reaching the Chicagoland area in terms of a method to eliminate seemingly endless gun violence, it may be too facile to call it a formal "solution" just yet.

NOTE: This review was read before my English class, Junior year in high school, in March 2013.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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