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In the Middle: Steve James’s “The Interrupters”

In the Middle: Steve James's "The Interrupters"

In The Interrupters, a valuable yet seemingly incomplete documentary, director-producer-cinematographer-editor Steve James (the codirector of Hoop Dreams) and producer-interviewer Alex Kotlowitz (the author of There Are No Children Here) shadow three “violence interrupters,” all of them employees of the Chicago-based organization CeaseFire. The goal of the interrupters—themselves all rehabilitated gangbangers—is to “save a life,” largely by attempting to short-circuit the impulse toward retaliatory action (they seem to have made a specialty of counseling those likely to plot revenge killings) through carefully calibrated real-talk. “You have to immerse yourself in the bullshit,” says CeaseFire director Tio Hardiman of the work. In their admiring (though certainly not sanitized) portrait of three interrupters—Ricardo “Cobe” Williams, Eddie Bocanegra, and Ameena Matthews, the daughter of notorious Chicago gang leader Jeff Fort—James and Kotlowitz dutifully show the extent of that “bullshit,” which encompasses not only senseless gangland brutality but also the ingrained hostility of many young adults in rough-and-tumble Chicago neighborhoods like the Ville and Altgeld Gardens. “Fuck a problem, fuck a solution,” says a hothead named Flamo during one of the film’s many high-pressure talk-downs. Some of the film’s other most searingly intense passages—like CeaseFire school visits in the wake of the death of Derrion Albert, whose beating with a large wooden board was caught on video and posted to YouTube—underscore the immensity of the challenges facing the interrupters. Continue reading Benjamin Mercer’s review of The Interrupters.

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