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Saturday, June 11, 2011

238. The Interrupters


    What a day! Sheffield's fabulous documentary film festival provided the backdrop for more landmarks for everyfilmin2011.
    I certainly have to thank the BFI press office for giving me accreditation to the festival and giving me the chance to wear an ID card around my neck with the name of my own site on it.
    Sure, I have used press passes for more than 30 years but never before have I represented myself. This, at my first film festival.
    But not only did I have my moment of pride but I had the chance to watch two fantastic films.
    Only my wedding anniversary prevented me staying a whole lot longer.
    First up was Interrupters, an astonishing piece of work by Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz.
    They spent a year following three "interrupters'' who are determined to quell the violence of the tough districts of Chicago.
    The difference here is that these are no average do-gooders. They were all caught up in the gang violence and so have credibility with those they are trying to dissuade from a destructive lifestyle.
    The scene of the film is set by the opening shots of a funeral and clips from news reports which say that the number of people shot to death has been as high in the windy city as American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    As Jesse Jackson says: "This is what a war zone looks like.''
    We are then introduced to a team of 'ceasefire interrupters', people who are using their own criminal backgrounds to help them stop the spiral of violence.
    There mission is not to stop the gangs but to save lives. This means they will actually intervene at flashpoint scenes.
    Among the three followed is Ameena Matthews, whose father was one of the most feared gangsters in Chicago.
    She is the shoulder of comfort for many mothers whose teenage sons are gunned down. Hers is the voice of persuasion to those young people who see no future.
    Killings are plentiful in Chicago and we learn that the reasons for them are disturbingly petty.
    The streets are dotted with shrines of flowers, teddy bears and empty liquor bottles.
    Nevertheless, despite painting an horrifically bleak picture, James told a question and answer session at Sheffield Showroom that he ended his project in hope.
    And that is largely down to the likes of Ameena, possibly the most positive advert for conversion to Islam I have seen, Cobe Williams a former drug dealer who served 12 years in jail before reforming and Eddie Bocanegra, a convicted murderer.
    All three are passionate interrupters and desperate that young people do not follow the path of their early lives.
    The Interrupters may be a long film but one of the delegates in Sheffield rightly pointed out that this allowed us to dig deep into the lives of the heroic trio and examine their backgrounds, see their lives today and the dramatically positive effect they have on the lives of others.
    The overwhelming message is that people are not inherently bad. They only do evil things if they are conditioned to. Their upbringing and surroundings are the key factors.
    This is deep stuff but it is not without humour. I laughed out loud five times.
    It is truly an amazing piece of work and it was great to hear Steve James speak so passionately about it.
    I just could not fault it so I'm making it my third 10/10 of 2011.
    It's a must see when it goes on UK release in August.

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238. The Interrupters


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