'The Interrupters' draws crowds
"The Interrupters" features members of CeaseFire, a UIC-based violence prevention program, as they work to bring peace to the streets of Chicago.
"Oscar material," says film critic Roger Ebert. "Mighty and heart-wrenching," writes the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips.
They are just two of the voices praising "The Interrupters," a documentary featuring UIC’s CeaseFire project that's selling out shows at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center.
“The Interrupters,” by director Steve James ("Hoop Dreams") and bestselling author Alex Kotlowitz (There Are No Children Here) tells the story of two men and a woman who work as violence interrupters for the violence prevention program CeaseFire, founded by Gary Slutkin, professor of epidemiology.
The documentary will be shown through Aug. 25 at the Siskel Center, 164 N. State St., before expanding to more than 25 cities nationwide. It will return to the Siskel Center Oct. 14.
The violence interrupters featured in the movie are three of dozens of interrupters working in some of Chicago's most violent neighborhoods to intercept whispers of impending violence and events that otherwise might result in a shooting.
"Violence interrupters were invented by the CeaseFire program," said Slutkin, executive director of Ceasefire, who will speak at screenings of the film tonight, Friday and Saturday.
"They know what's going on in the neighborhoods. They get information from hospitals, from friends, from moms and because of their training and their support, they are able to effectively persuade people into not doing a shooting.”
The CeaseFire method treats violence like an infectious disease, preventing its spread to keep neighborhoods safer.
"One event, a shooting, leads to another shooting just the way a case of flu or measles leads to another case of flu or another case of measles. Therefore we need to interrupt the spread," Slutkin said.
The filmmakers approached CeaseFire because it represents a different idea for making neighborhoods safer, Slutkin said: using people who used to be involved with gangs, "because they are so effective in working with the minds of people who are currently thinking about violence or who have a lot of difficulties."
The documentary, filmed over a year beginning in 2009, follows interrupters Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams and Eddie Bocanegra as they attempt to intervene in impending violence.
"We also work with people for a longer period of time to help change their thinking about violence and the film shows this as well. With time, we work to shift the norms of the whole neighborhood," said Slutkin, whose CeaseFire method is used in 15 U.S. cities and five countries.
Violence interrupters in Chicago stopped more than 200 events in the first six months of 2011 and more than 2,000 events in the last five years, he said.
Since "The Interrupters" premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival in January, the film has received awards and favorable reviews from the New York Times, Salon.com and others.
The film is presented by Kartemquin Films for WGBH/Frontline and the Independent Television Service in association with RISE Films. It will be broadcast as part of the PBS "Frontline" series in 2012.
Purchase tickets for the Chicago opening through Ticketmaster.