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The Interrupters

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About this new film, Roger Ebert says:

"Patiently, brilliantly, Steve James looks closely at our society. He begins documentaries with no easy end in sight, and persists. How could he have guessed his masterpiece "Hoop Dreams" (1994) would develop into a story of such incredible power? Now, in "The Interrupters," he has made his most important film, telling the story of ex-convicts who go daily into the streets of Chicago to try to talk gang members out of shooting at one another."

You have to take notice when Ebert calls this James's most important film, especially since he once named "Hoop Dreams" the best film of the '90's.

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My friend Andrew Johnson was over the moon on this film when we screened it in April at Full Frame.

Quite frankly, I'm still processing whether its power comes from its film making or its subject matter.

Link to CeaseFire.org, the organization in the documentary.

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Paste has posted an interview with Steve James (they call him their "Film Person of the Year (Documentaries)"), and also note he got snubbed by the Oscars again.

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ok, I'm sold

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Yeah, my brother is a big fan of this film. I want to check it out.

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NPR's Snap Judgment program recently aired a story that featured audio from The Interrupters.

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The PBS series Frontline is airing The Interrupters tonight (where I am, at least), and of course I have it coming from Netflix tomorrow.

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This is hard to watch.

In spite of all my experience in attending poor community college, the military, going to Army Reserve drill in the boondocks of Baltimore, working a couple blue-collar manual labor jobs in Washington D.C., taking in a homeless ex-gang-banger to live with me last summer, working with gang members in a criminal defense office in Modesto, CA ... the first impression I get from this film is that it's, well, it's foreign. I don't understand the mindsets, the complete and utter irrationality, the hellbent insistence on "respect," the ability to make an unpaid for 5-dollar bag of weed worth killing over. We can watch this film, watch David Simon's The Wire, and read Dennis Lehane and Richard Price all we want to, it's not going to help us find an easy solution.

One of the worst things about this film is listening to the workers of Ceasefire preach their message to the streets while watching the crowd listening to them nodding, saying that's right, and then (admitted even by the members of Ceasefire) going right back out to do exactly what they were doing. Some street arguments are amazingly even captured on camera and they're just ... stupid. The participants in the altercations are not thinking through anything, they're not even helping any actual organized crime. They have hair-trigger violent tempers. "It's all about respect and disrespect" not about actual organized crime. As worth a story as this story is worth telling, I can't help but wonder if a documentary like Waiting for 'Superman' touches more on the root of the problem. Educated people are not just going to rationally persuade uneducated people to stop acting irrationally. Eddie Bocanegra is shown working the most in the schools - and that looks like it has the most potential to accomplish some good. But you wonder who the members of Ceasefire are not overwhelmed by sheer hopelessness. That they aren't is inspiring.

There are a large number of children in this film. A large number of them have witnessed gun battles, if not actual murders, happen right in front of them on their streets and in their yards. Their childhoods have already been taken away from them. They are being hardened and brainwashed by the street culture they live in from the age of five or six on up.

The "violence interrupters" are fascinating and good people with a passion for helping others. But I kept getting this bad feeling during the film that all their passion was going to waste. I'm sure they are helping somehow. They have to be, but this film isn't really meant to show many results. Ameena Matthews, because of her past, has their respect - but what's to say "respect" means staying quiet when she's talking? She looks like she's a powerful influence in her society, and we can pray that she at least has an effect on girls like Capricia, even though it doesn't look good. Cobe Williams looks like he has the potential to be a surrogate father or older brother for a number of young men (like 'lil Mikey or Flamo), and that's inspiring. To a certain extent, these people are like modern day Don Quixotes.

"I respect what you're doing and all and it's cool, but I'm not with Ceasefire ... I'm 32 years old and I've been locked up 15 years of my life ... what's that mean? ... I'm tired of being out here anyway, it's boring ..."

Is this a story about some passionate and good people treating the symptoms instead of the disease? Maybe, but they are peacemakers (following a Biblical mandate). They actually do stop fights. And as a result, they probably do save some lives (even if one of them, so far, has got shot in the process). A film absolutely worth watching though. In fact, every American, every parent, every pastor, every school teacher, every member in our government, and every political candidate for office should watch this.

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You can view this documentary in its entirety online HERE.

When done, Persiflage has raised some excellent discussion points.

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