There's little doubt that violence is a disruptive force not unlike cancer; the appearance of one instance rapidly multiplies until much of the social body is overtaken. If you'll forgive my co-opting of the overused "violence is a cancer" metaphor, the subjects of Steve James' (Hoop Dreams, At the Death House Door) latest documentary, members of Chicago's Cease Fire organization, stand as a type of experimental treatment against the violence plaguing the streets of the windy city.
James travels the streets of Chicago with representatives of Cease Fire, self-proclaimed "violence interrupters," as they put themselves in the center of conflicts, attempting to defuse them before they reach the boiling point. What makes the organization unique, beyond their use of direct action, is that these anti-violence advocates are almost entirely made up of former proponents of violence; Cease Fire actively looks to recruit former gang-members and ex-cons to carry out their mission, reasoning that their unique expertise and undeniable street cred is an invaluable resource in stemming the spread of violence that threatens Chicago's neighborhoods.
The film demonstrates how the work being done by these interrupters extends to advocacy and mentoring; James' cameras follow members of the group as they spend time with individuals at high risk for violent action. And it's within these one-on-one meetings that The Interrupters really finds its feet, allowing for the viewer to witness a far more personal espousal of Cease Fire's philosophy as its relates to each street team member's personal experiences.
Such moments, coupled with the sequences where the advocates divulge the sizable regrets of their past, drive the film forward, offering hope for change in what many might label a hopeless situation. Their ability to interrupt their own vicious cycles of provocation and retribution speaks loudly to the possibility for others to experience a similar breakthrough. The Interrupters doesn't assume that outcome but it does offer optimism via the examples of those who have overcome the odds.
The Interrupters plays at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Wed., April 18th at 8pm. The producer of the film, Alex Kotlowitz, will be in attendance at the screening.
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