The Interrupters, directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams) and produced by Alex Kotlowitz, is a hard-hitting documentary that will squeeze your heart and grip your guts. The two-hour film is presented in four chapters – seasons of the year James spent filming ‘violence interrupters’ in Chicago’s South Side. In one such neighbourhood in 2008, 37 people were shot over one weekend – seven fatally. That’s the kind of scale of gang violence, sparked over ridiculously petty grievances such as a five-dollar bag of weed, that The Interrupters confronts viewers with.
The absorbing documentary follows the workings of CeaseFire, a not-for-profit organization attempting to restore peace to areas whose residents have become disaffected due to constant exposure to death. Three main ‘interrupters’ (conflict mediators) are profiled – self-described former gang members who are consumed with remorse over their past actions and committed to slowing the senseless slaughter on the streets. Ameena Matthews, Ricardo ‘Cobe’ Williams and Eddie Bocanegra are complex, candid characters viewers engage with as footage follows them attending meetings, speaking at memorials and putting themselves in-between riled-up rivals intent on meting out retribution.
Other protagonists are Dr Gary Sutkin, who (after working for the World Health Organisation preventing the spread of infectious disease) proposes that like TB or HIV, violence is a public health issue contaminating communities, and Tio Hardiman, director of CeaseFire Illinois, who implemented the ‘violence interrupters’ program – a courageous concept that puts gutsy individuals between two opponents armed with guns, knives, lumps of wood or chunks of concrete. Heavy. Matthews, Willams and Bocanegra, as revered ex-cons who have turned their lives around, dissuade those intent on dishing out revenge over a look, word or act taken to convey disrespect. Colourful secondary characters such as the loud-mouthed yet loveable Flamo, often petulant Caprysha and remorseful Lil Mikey offer the viewer an insight into how they are constantly counselling, comforting or cajoling towards tentative truces between enemies.
Kotlowitz and James have created a film that avoids being exploitative or preachy due to its firm focus on CeaseFire as a politically neutral initiative designed to prevent bloodshed by the most immediate and practical means possible. There’s no time wasted discussing gun control policies, race relations or pointing fingers in a blame game over circumstances that have contributed to creating the ghettos these people operate within. The Interrupters is quite simply as brutal as the topic it explores and will remain lodged in your mind long after the final credits roll.
By Lisa Morrison.
The Interrupters is screening as part of the Revelation Perth International Film Festival on Wednesday July 11 at 4pm and Friday 13 July at 6:30pm at the Astor Theatre.
Tickets are available from www.revelationfilmfest.org