What else can be said about The Interrupters? The newest documentary by Steve James (Hoop Dreams) has received a HUGE amount of attention in the months prior to its release and (catching the bug a bit!) I basically read everything I could before actually watching it. I thought this would help me appreciate the film, make it richer and more comprehensible. To my disappointment, the opposite happened. I found myself almost ticking-boxes as the film progressed, thinking ‘oh it must be that scene where so and so happens’ and losing all sense of the film’s power and originality. Over-researching this documentary stopped me from appreciating the film itself, I couldn’t see the wood for the trees and reduced what should be a surprising and unpredictable experience.
But, I went back again a few weeks later to check out the Q&A organized by DocHouse, and this time I relaxed and really saw The Interrupters for what it is. What I already understood on an intellectual level was communicated at the interpersonal and emotional level (the way it should be!). The stories are fantastic and it gives a sense of the atmosphere created by endemic violence, the tension and constant threat of danger. The best scene is obviously Cobe’s first encounter with Flamo (pictured). Having just left prison, Flamo’s family were arrested after someone snitched and he’s ready to take vengeance on the streets. His violent outbursts are counter-balanced by a playful mischievousness and seeing how the level of aggression is maintained even when arranging lunch is simply hilarious. James’ should also be praised for walking such a tightrope throughout this film, expertly avoiding either excusing murder or condemning those that perpetrate it and firmly reinforcing Slutkin’s message that we should focus on the behavior itself and not waste time moralizing. Children are dying and they must do whatever necessary to stop the killing. I won’t go into any more detail about the rest of the film, descriptions are available elsewhere and anything more may hamper your enjoyment. Just go watch it.
Where my research of this documentary has proven useful is introducing a whole new area of thought around public health to me, and I hope The Interrupters will bring this position into the mainstream. Slutkin’s concept of violence as an epidemic is not in itself radical (other social facts have been analyzed as such), but actually applying an epidemiological methodology certainly is! Thomas Kuhn said that paradigm shifts come at times of crisis and surely Englewood epitomizes a society in crisis; ‘Cease Fire’ may be blazing a trail for the future of social engineering and if you would like to learn more about it please follow the links below. I would also like to point you towards Alex Kotlowitz’s article that served as the films foundation and inspired James to make the film. Alex wrote a famous book called ‘There Are No Children Here’ and this article is a great piece of journalism. After you’ve read it, see if you can spot some of the people Alex mentions in the background of the film!
The Interrupters has received very limited release in the UK, but you can catch it at a variety of little venues across the UK. http://goodwithfilm.com/screenings/films/the-interrupters/
Links for Gary Slutkin’s theories and Ceasfire
Alex Kotlowitz Article