Documenting murder and mayhem

“When a frail-looking child with startled eyes breaks down crying, her tiny hands covering her tiny face as she talks about a neighborhood shooting, it’s hard not to gather her up in your arms,” wrote New York Times movie reviewer Manohla Dargis about the new film The Interrupters.

The newly-released documentary film by Steve James (’77) follows a group of former Chicago gang members returning to the city’s tormented neighborhoods with one mission in mind: to “interrupt” the cycle of violence that plagues the city with their special blend of wisdom and credibility.

Steve, who also produced the Oscar-nominated documentary Hoop Dreams, collaborated with journalist Alex Kotlowitz to tell the story through the experiences of three of the “violence interrupters.”

Working though an organization called CeaseFire, the interrupters get right in the middle of volatile situations to defuse them — to interrupt them. It is not an easy or safe job. It requires persuasion, finesse and courage to use their credibility as former gang members to funnel potential violence into more productive reactions.

The interrupters are saving lives and changing the culture of violence one crisis at a time. Steve told NPR in an interview this week: “What we wanted to do, in some ways was to refocus some attention on the issue….”

Focus they have. Their film premiered in New York late last month to very positive reviews.

Manohla Dargis also wrote that while some documentaries exploit their subjects, The Interrupters “rises above the usual do-gooder cant by giving the interrupters — and the people they work among and periodically come close to dying for — the time to share their stories about life in the trenches. Mr. James has put a face to a raging epidemic and an unforgivable American tragedy.

You can listen to the full NPR interview with Steve James at:

To read the full New York Times review, visit:

And you can also read Alex Kotlowitz’ original New York Times story that inspired the film:

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