Director: Steve James
Chicago's streets have become a war zone, with violent crimes reaching unprecedented levels. In response to this alarming trend, the group Ceasefire has created a group of violence interrupters, most of them unpaid, all former gang members and violent offenders. The role of the violence interrupters is to attempt to defuse a situation before it becomes violent (they are usually retaliatory attempts) through counseling the subjects on their level and in their own turf.
Steve James, who directed the outstanding 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams returns to Chicago's violent and underprivileged streets with The Interrupters. Like Dreams, The Interrupters is gritty, brutally honest, and contains an enormous amount of heart and inspiration. The main violence interrupters profiled, Ameena, Cobe and Eddie, are all fascinating people who, despite their criminal pasts, were all able to redeem themselves with their own will. They have taken this incredible strength and character and turned it into positive deeds to inspire people who don't know they want to be helped. Their approaches may be different, but their passion is all the same. Not every case is a success, but the amount of good they and the other members of Ceasefire do is staggering.
The Interrupters is a disturbing film, simply because the violence is pervasive. The number of people, most of them teenagers and young adults, who were killed during the year James filmed was heartbreaking, and the impact on their families was devastating. James' camera never wavers, regardless of the pain, creating a true account of terrible situations. The Interrupters has its light moments too, usually provided by "Flamo", who Cobe is mentoring. he not only tells it like it is, but does it with such color and flair that he had the audience laughing, which, after all of the heavy situations we'd witnessed by that point, was really welcome.
The Interrupters is by far one of the best documentaries I've seen in at least a decade, and it is going to stay with me for some time. I'm really glad I was able to see it while it was still in the festival circuit because it will be interesting to see how far it goes once word of mouth sets in. Not only would I recommend The Interrupters to any audience (and plan to recommend it to everyone I know) but it should be required viewing for middle and high school students to show that inspiration and hope is possible, regardless of one's surroundings, and that personal redemption is possible.
MFF Ballot Rating: 5 out of 5