With The Interrupters, director Steve James in collaboration with his joint producer, Alex Kotlowitz, has come up with a very interesting and unusual documentary. It outlines the work done by the “violence interrupters” (this is their own job title): those who intervene in conflicts before the incidents become violent.
The film follows three people working to put an end to cycles of violence in Chicago during a time of great animosity and unrest. Working for the CeaseFire organisation, volunteers keep an ear out for potential problems in neighborhoods and then act to prevent violence occurring. These volunteers have mostly been involved in criminal activity and now wish to change their lives, and at the same time help others, whom they see beginning to go down the same wrong path. The main aim is to “save a life” and Tio Hardiman, the Director for Ceasefire, explains how the interrupters need to be both able to listen and then through talking to them convince potential perpetrators to avoid violent confrontations.
The back stories of the three interrupters we follow are in themselves very interesting. Eddie Bocanegra, now 34 and married with four children, spent 14 years in prison for a murder he committed when he was 17. He spends time teaching art to children. Ricardo “Cobe” Williams, 38, lost his father, who was murdered, when he was 11. He has been in and out of prison for drug related crimes and attempted murder. He is now trying to turn around the lives of young people who behave the way he used to. Ameena Matthews is the daughter of an infamous gang leader, and was herself involved in criminal activity until she converted to Islam. She is married to an Imam at a local mosque and has four children. She works hard to change the mindset of those involved with violence, including young women.
We see the individual interrupters working with different young people and having greater or lesser success at different times. While their work often results in disappointment, the successes make it all worthwhile. This is a strong and, at times, moving documentary film which can teach much to those working with similar young people in the UK.
Review by Carlie Newman