October 7, 2011
By Marc Glassman
Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz, directors
Feature documentary w/Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams, Eddie Bocanegra
Steve James and Kartemquin, the doc organization that he works with in Chicago, have been making excellent works in the cinema verité genre for decades. Their biggest success has been Hoop Dreams, a nearly epic look at how basketball can positively affect the lives of African-American youths. With The Interrupters, they have delivered a film that might even better than that classic documentary.
Once again, the scene is inner city Chicago. This time, the dream of the African-Americans in the film is to survive and beat the cycle of violence that is destroying their city—and nearly every other urban centre in the United States.
The Interrupters concentrates on three people: Cobe Williams, Ameena Matthews and Eddie Bocanegra. Each is working with CeaseFire, an organization that believes the violence in ghettos is just like an infectious disease. It has to be stopped–permanently interrupted—to make cities safe again.
Motivated by the terrible death of one Chicago kid Derrion Albert, the film quietly shows how three “interrupters” act out in peaceful, positive ways. Ameena Matthews, a former drug dealer, befriends Albert’s mother and helps her through her grief. Matthews also mentors an adolescent “at risk” girl, steering her away from the dark forces in her community.
Cobe Williams came out of prison determined to work in better ways. James follows this remarkable man as he courageously forces men in his neighbourhood–ranging from a teenager to an old squatter–to change their lives. Eddie Bocanegra, a convicted murderer, works with younger kids to accept life and not seek revenge for the violence done against them and their families.
The Interrupters is even more of an epic than Hoop Dreams. It shows a Chicago that resembles the bleakest aspects of Dickens’ London. And yet, like Dickens, Steve James–and his friends at Kartemquin–continue to find the good, even in the most terrifying ghettos of America. The Interrupters holds a mirror to society and asks–can’t we find a better way to deal with our cities? It’s an important film and deserves to be seen by thoughtful and engaged citizens in Toronto and elsewhere.