THE INTERRUPTERS – SLIFF Review
THE INTERRUPTERS was originally reviewed on September 9th, 2011.
Every day thousands of people across the nation grit their teeth in frustration while reading the daily papers and weekly news magazines. Many more clench their fists against their armchairs while watching local TV news broadcasts. It seems the country (or, state or home city) is going to “Hell in a hand basket!” But they’re not part of the government-what can they do? Film maker Steve James (HOOP DREAMS) and author/producer Alex Kottlowitz addresses this dilemma in the powerful new documentary THE INTERRRUPTERS. the individuals profiled here, armed only with their wits and a cell phone, may be the most heroic action stars that you’ll see in the cinemas this year.
THE INTERRUPTERS documents the effort of an organization called CeaseFire to stem the rising tide of the youth violence (particularly in the south side of Chicago). As the title suggests these people, men and women ranging in age from their early ’20s through their ’50s, step in during heated altercations and attempt to restore calm before fists (and rocks,bottles,knives, and guns) strike out. We first meet the group’s founder, epidemiologist Gary Slutkin, a man who traveled the globe battling disease and now wants to eradicate the disease of violence that is ravaging the community
One of the main Chicago co-ordinators, Tio Hardiman the creator of the “Violence Interrupters” program, meets the street team at a large table and helps map out trouble spots where they must concentrate their efforts. Like most of the Ceasefire members Hardiman’s youth involved gangs and crime. The film follows the team during a brutal year on those mean streets and focuses on three of these people trying to make a difference. While much of the work is with the African-American neighborhoods, the film spends some time with a former Latino gang member, Eddie Bocanegra ,who takes us to the spot where he took a life many years ago. He then conducts an art class with children at an inner city grade school that helps them deal with their fears. Later Eddie interacts with a family who lost their fifteen year old son to a stray bullet. We observe their daily gathering at his grave site and hear his younger sister tell of how he died in her arms.
The most charismatic and vocal of the trio is Ameena Mathews, daughter of legendary gang leader Jeff Fort, who is one of the first CeaseFire workers to step in (near the the start of the film she tries to diffuse a fight right outside their offices). She tells of her time as a party girl and how the party ended when she was shot. Her struggle to reach out to a troubled nineteen year old girl, is full of setbacks and small victories. The busiest of the group may be Cobe Williams, who seems to doing a variation of the old plate-spinning act. He attempts to reconcile a single mother and her two teenage sons who belong to rival gangs. Then he’s doing his best to cool off a street hustler known as “Flamo” (ironically enough) who seeks revenge on whoever called the police on his family home (Mom was put in handcuffs while his wheelchair-bound brother was taken to the station). Finally he picks up a young seventeen year old after serving two years for armed robbery. After a tearful reunion with his sisters and kid brother, Cobe takes him to the barber shop he and his gang had robbed in order to apologize to his victims. Soon they’re trying to score a job for him . Unfortunately, it seems that the CeaseFire team is always on the move with ver few breaks.
Like HOOP DREAMS James lets the participants guide the stories. There’s no flashy graphics, recreations,and animation in this portrait of a community in turmoil. James’s camera where there when the fatal beating of high schooler Derrion Albert made the national news after a grainy video of his murder hit the Internet. The CeaseFire team swoops in and stays with the family as the national media quickly moves on. There is some use of local TV news clips and newspaper headlines along with family photos and videos. The most haunting images maybe the piles of stuffed toys and makeshift posters and cards on street corners where a slaying has recently occurred. This film has more tension that the last five Hollywood thrillers combined. The team is determined not to use violence, but unfortunately they get caught in the crossfire. There’s no magic force field that protects them. In one scene Tio Hardiman is overcome with emotion when visiting an interrupter was was shot in the back while walking away from a street fight he thought had ended. With all this misery, THE INTERRUPTERS leaves you with a great belief in the good of humanity. Along with this horrific tales of carnage, there are stories of redemption, courage, and forgiveness. But they have little time to celebrate those little victories. The street is calling. But, maybe… someday.