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
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 »
A complete portrait of the roots of urban violence
The problem with gang violence in Chicago hasn't changed much (for better or worse) in decades. In that light, "The Interrupters" can't be considered timely, and it certainly doesn't expose a new and growing problem. But in focusing on a group of dedicated violence interrupters, writer Alex Kotlowitz and documentary filmmaker Steve James ("Hoop Dreams"), stepping away from his usual sports focus, capture the cycle of violence in such a complete way that you can finally start to see how it could in fact end.
CeaseFire is a violence prevention group that largely consists of former convicts and people who have spent time in prison. They dedicate a large portion of their time to being present in the communities where violence strikes and stopping conflicts before they escalate into violence. They also make themselves available as resources and confidants to individuals in need of a calming influence.
Essentially, these interrupters do what the police can't, even though none of the subjects come out and say it directly, nor does James imply it in a heavy-handed fashion. The people in these neighborhoods don't trust the police and fear the police, whereas these interrupters are adult role models who they can relate to/who can relate to them, people they respect.
James chronicles a year from summer through spring, or the most violent time of year to a time of year when hope grows anew. He focuses on the efforts of three violence interrupters and a few of the young people they each reach out to during the course of this year.
The first is Ameena Matthews, daughter of notorious Chicago gang leader Jeff Fort, who at one point became involved in a drug ring. She's easily the most magnetic figure in the film and given that families of violence victims seek her comfort specifically, it says a lot about her strength as a community leader. Throughout the film she delivers powerful and moving speeches suggestive of her strength, but as she works with a loving but emotionally troubled teenager named Caprysha, we learn even she has moments of doubt.
Next is Cobe Williams, more soft spoken, but whose prison time give him a street cred that finds him able to talk to and work with some hostile individuals. His work with a gangbanger named Flamo, who he comes into contact with at a serious boiling point, is one of the more powerful arcs in the film.
Lastly there's Eddie Bocanegra, who does art work with students but spent half his life in prison for murder. His redemption story proves more than any that there's hope for those who make these fatal mistakes.
"The Interrupters" explores the deepest depths and root causes of violence, enough to even the most self-assured pacifist consider reality that is the cycle of violence and that it's not simply a matter of just not letting it be an option. Many of the subjects discuss the role of parents being there or not there and how they are role models whether they want to be or not, as well as how violence has become part of the culture because of the value placed on pride and ego.
Like any great documentary, "The Interrupters" is a conversation starter. Yes, it's edited in a powerful way will elicit emotion, but there are so many discussions worth having based on what the subjects say and do and what we observe. It's really hard to capture the entire spectrum of the conversation on a subject as general as violence, but somehow James manages to do it. And nothing he presents is black and white (not referring to race); if you pay attention through the entire film, you rationally cannot make generalizations about the roots of violence.
There are moments when the film drags a bit as it takes a step back to cover the human interest element of the film, the tragedy of it all. That's important, but its call to action is loud and impossible to ignore, so much so that you want it to continue its search for an answer, or in this case, to see if the work CeaseFire does really makes a difference.
It certainly does. "The Interrupters" proves as much. At the same time, we become so aware of how they can only be in once place at a time. A handful of occasions during the film we hear someone talk about some act of violence unfolding somewhere else right now as the camera is rolling. It's a wake-up call that unless the City of Chicago or the government take an extensive, grass-roots approach to ending violence, there's no way that even these amazing individuals can end it.
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