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DIRECTOR: Steve James
CAST: Ameena Matthews, Tio Hardiman, Toya Batey and Cobe Williams
CLASSIFICATION: 16 LV
RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes
YOU MAY think you have seen some very good documentaries, and I’m going to let you finish, but this is one of the best of the year.
That opening line may be an okay-ish attempt at reminding you of that time when Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards and brought her into the consciousness of people who don’t even bat an eyelid at country music. But there is a point to it.
Well, maybe not letting people finish is a Chicago thing. Called The Interrupters, this documentary that premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival is about people who do just that: they don’t let people finish. And where are they based? West’s home town of Chicago, Illinois.
Although, to be fair, The Interrupters aren’t a bunch of bullies who are out to steal the shine of little girls. Working for a violence prevention organisation called Ceasefire, this group are termed violence interrupters.
As the name suggests, it is their job to interrupt any dodgy behaviour and prevent it from escalating into violence.
West has, on more than one occasion, rhymed about the alarmingly high murder rate in Chicago. He’s told us he walks through the valley of the Chi where death is and this is the same valley where people kill each other just because they belong to different cliques.
TV shows such as The Wire gave the world an inside view into the destitution invited by dangerous lifestyles that include gun culture and drug use in Maryland. But to those of us who don’t live there, The Wire is just an excellent show to watch.
The Interrupters, however, is set in south-side Chicago and is a powerfully engaging documentary that doesn’t write witty dialogue into a script, or always have happy endings. These are the real lives of teenagers and young adults who are really in trouble.
There is Ameena Matthews, who is not only the daughter of legendary Black P Stone gangster Jeff Fort, but also an amazingly frank and open-hearted gangster-turned-Muslim.
She and others become the only shot the community has to minimise the occurrence of violence and murder.
But it’s not always easy. It requires putting themselves in the line of fire.
And sometimes those actions lead to Interrupters being hospitalised.
But this is non-profit work they have taken on especially because they have been in the shoes of the angry and violent Chi-Town dwellers.
Mostly made up of former offenders who have done jail time, this organisation thrives on the fact that the Interrupters know how to help alleviate the tension that’s mostly brought on by the effects of poverty, and the need for respect, precisely because they have also been there.
This beautifully shot doccie that employs the use of still images and heart-breaking cutaways of kids gone too soon takes us beyond race and delves deeply into the reasons why things are the way they are and how the Interrupters who managed to get out did just that.
But it’s not all sunshine and roses with the Interrupters.
You can take a gangster off the street, but you can’t always take the street out of the gangster. There are plenty of times when Ameena has to use street termi-nology and even raise her voice for the kids on the block to hear her and maybe even relate.
The Interrupters is filmed over one year and by the time they reach autumn, we see some of the breakthroughs that are a direct result of the work the Interrupters have done.
Needless to say, the violence depicted in this documentary (although not gross to Tarantino proportions) is not for sensitive viewers.
If you liked… The Corner and The Wire… then you will love this.
• The Interrupters screens only at The Labia on Orange.