The Interrupters Review and Trailer

When I had the opportunity to screen Steve James’ latest documentary, The Interrupters, I was overjoyed. James arguably directed the best American documentary of all-time, 1994’s Hoop Dreams; a film about two inner-city Chicago prep-school basketball players. His latest work brings him back to Chicago in which he chronicles the lives of CeaseFire employees and their impact on Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods. The film mainly follows three interrupters: Ameena Matthews (daughter of gang kingpin Jeff Fort), Eddie Bocanegra, and Cobe Williams. Their occupation is to mediate conflicts between disputing individuals, nipping any promising threat of violence in the bud. However, changing a violent atmosphere that has seeded itself so deeply in the community for generations, proves itself difficult to eradicate.
Spanning a little over a year, James chronicles the advocacy group, CeaseFire and their relationships with the community. CeaseFire, an organization founded by Gary Slutkin M.D, is not in the business of disbanding gangs or aiding police, they are a neutral party interested in saving lives. The members of CeaseFire are former gang members themselves who have all endured the hardships of prison. Their veteran status allows them to infiltrate the struggling communities and relate to their grievances.

Slutkin’s work in Africa working with infectious disease has led him to believe that behavioral violence is an epidemic. “For the young people in these neighborhoods, they see violence as their disease and they expect to die young.”  In 2008, murders exceeded those of  U.S service deaths in the Iraqi campaign.  Most deceased were under the age of 21.

Unlike previous documentaries I have viewed recently, James uses his camera to do the talking. It seems the popular method of conveying messages these days is through elaborate animated Powerpoint presentations, leaving viewers full of knowledge but without visual evidence. James films a variety of countless shrines over the span of the movie, some of which you see still standing throughout the four seasons. His candid portrayal of families dealing with losses is almost unbearable to watch – filming them as they sit at their son’s grave in silence for most of the afternoon; or his opportunity to capture the event where an apologetic seventeen year-old boy returns to the scene of the crime and ask for forgiveness from who he wronged.

So many compelling interactions were witnessed during the film, it made me remember what documentaries are about – not just a narrator spewing inflated statistics, but a live and visual commentary on contemporary American culture. While it is impossible to hold this to the same standard as Hoop Dreams for reasons being its stark similarities, it is this film’s only flaw.

The Interrupters opens in San Francisco Friday, September 2nd and Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinemas


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