Set in the violence laden streets of Chicago comes The Interrupters, a film chronicling a year in the lives of three ex-gang members who try to protect their communities from the harm they once afflicted.
With the help of New York Times’ writer Alex Kotlowitz, director Steve James examines the efforts of three Violence Interrupters: Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams and Eddie Bocanegra. The trio work with CeaseFire, an organization that works to prevent more conflicts from happening in Chicago neighbourhoods.
Each Interrupter have a crime-ridden past but one central objective.
Matthews, the daughter of Jeff Fort, one of the city’s most notorious gang leaders, was once a drug ring enforcer. With her fearless and passionate personality, the film follows her friendship with a troubled teenage girl who reminds Matthews of herself when she was that age.
Williams, who witnessed his father’s brutal murder at the age of 11, once served 12 years in prison for attempted murder and drug trafficking before turning his life around. With his good humour and general good nature, Williams confronts Flamo, a man who sets out to take vengeance on his enemies.
Then there’s Boncanegra, a former Latino gangbanger who spent 14 years in jail for killing a rival gang member. Today, he helps kids express themselves through painting. He serves as a mentor for these children, who at times, are overwhelmed by the violence they witness in their communities.
By intervening into neighbourly disputes with the goal of persuading those involved not to kill one another, each Interrupter hope to make their communities a safer place to live.
Having garnered positive reviews at the Sundance Film Festival, James, who was present at a screening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, hopes The Interrupters can help others open up about the issue of crime and gang violence.
“The interrupters take the reality and they act,” he said. “I want you to look beyond the stereotypes and see that they are real people. These people want the same things and want to help their community.”
Although the film doesn’t deliver happy endings, The Interrupters is a realistic look at the violence experienced in the Chicago streets.
Intimate and gripping, James captures the ups and downs of the film’s three main subjects as they attempt to bring peace into their neighbourhoods.
Though hopeless at times as more senseless homicides take place, it’s obvious the effect each Interrupter has on those they try to help.
While lives have changed significantly by the film’s end, the future remains murky.
Though as disputes continue to strike, it’s clear much change still awaits.
(This review was published in the November 2011 issue of the Ryerson Free Press)