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‘Interrupters’ shows that change is possible

Fri., Sept. 30, 2011

No concept in the critical lexicon has been more devalued and debased than “inspirational.” The term has been so misused, it’s just about lost all meaning.

A film that makes that word real and vital has to be special. “The Interrupters” is such a film.

A look at people trying at the ground level to stop street violence in Chicago, it tears at your heart with its depiction of the problem. But it simultaneously insists, and makes you believe, that change is possible one person at a time.

Producer-director Steve James was one of the directors of “Hoop Dreams,” that most memorable of documentaries, while producer Alex Kotlowitz, the author of “There Are No Children Here,” wrote the magazine article this film is based on.

The organization that moved both men is a Chicago-based group called CeaseFire, which believes that violence is both learned behavior and akin to an infectious disease: People who give in to it infect other people.

CeaseFire employs a small cadre it calls violence interrupters, individuals who have become expert at defusing incendiary situations. Needless to say, not just anyone can do this work, and when the interrupters succeed it is because they’ve been there themselves: They’re people with major street credibility who’ve lived the violent life and left it behind.

Gaining trust and getting close to these individuals and the intense situations they become involved in was no easy thing. The filmmakers shot more than 300 hours of footage, which has been edited to just about two hours by James’ longtime collaborator Aaron Wickenden.

If there is a message here, especially as regards the young people who are the focus of CeaseFire’s efforts, it’s summed up in the title of the Solomon Burke song that plays over the closing credits: “Don’t Give Up on Me.”

This film not only asks that of us, it shows us why we should care.

“The Interrupters” is playing at the Magic Lantern Theatre.


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