Steve James is a master of showing the parts of my own country that I had no idea I shared. The Interrupters, the documentary master’s latest, shows inner city Chicago, it’s murderous violence, and the people rallying against it. It focuses on CeaseFire, an organization that sends ex-cons and reformed murderers into the most dangerous parts of the city to talk and reason people out of the violent acts they have planned. We get to see this process achieve what appears to be complete success as a teenager recently freed from prison for robbery finds a job and even attempts to become a violence interrupter himself and when a man determined to get retribution from those who have wronged him is talked away from it and goes in a different direction. We also see the more difficult cases, a confrontation between an interrupter and a young girl ends with the girl walking away in anger, she is arrested and locked up later that night. But more than anything, for me at least, we see the curtain pulled back on real people who struggle daily and are battling a cycle of violence and despair. The same sensation happens during James’ Hoop Dreams which is nominally about basketball but really about poverty and race.
The reason for The Interrupters is these wonderful people have bettered themselves and are putting themselves in the most dire of harm’s way to try to better others but the message is that these kind of conditions and situations exist at all. There is no better art form for empathy than movies and documentaries might be best suited of all because of their capturing of real moments and real people. I felt for the people in The Interrupters, both the ones associated with CeaseFire and the pitiful ones needing their help. Made all the more awful that when the cameras stop rolling, their lives go on, struggling in a cruel world.