Friday, August 19, 2011

The Interrupters

& Creating Compelling Narratives

Tuesday evening I made my way downtown to the Gene Siskel Film Theatre to see the documentary The Interrupters. I had initially heard about the film during my attendance of a lecture at the Harold Washington Library. The lecture featured one of the film's producer's Alex Kotlowitz.  Kotlowitz spoke about non-fiction storytelling and approaching all research with an honest sense of curiosity. He spoke clearly and passionately about the importance of narratives; that narratives affirm histories, introduce audiences to people and ideas they wouldn't otherwise encounter, and elicit empathy. He referenced fictional work like The Grapes of Wrath and To Kill a Mockingbird, as well as non-fiction works like Johnathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities, and his own work There are No Children Here to illustrate his point. He also reminded the audience comprised of aspiring writers, that our purpose for writing is not that we will immediately change the circumstances in which we find the world. Rather, our writing can (at least) challenge assumptions, and nudge the rigidness in how one may think about people and ideas.

Leaving the lecture, I was left with a strong sense of respect for Kotlowitz and the messages he conveyed. I  yearned to understand his ideas about writing and relaying compelling narratives more fully, so attending his film seemed like the next obvious step.

His film co-produced with Steve James, did not disappoint. The Interrupters, a documentary featuring the violence prevention organization called CeaseFire, was compelling and moving. The film's success  is driven by the richness in which they develop the narratives of three key conflict mediators ("interrupters"); Ameena Matthews, Eddie Bocanegra, and Ricardo "Cobe" Williams. Matthews, Bocanegra, and Williams are all former "gang banger's" who were heavily involved in drugs and violence. Their willingness to be candid about their pasts and their journey toward changing their behavior, becoming positive role models in their Chicago communities, is inspiring. It moves the audience beyond "shocking" six o'clock headline news stories, painting  a more dynamic picture of Chicago street violence. Their past's also provide them the credibility needed to steer youth away from solving conflicts with violence and death.

If this film and the topics in which it explores seems to be of interest to you, you're in luck! The Interrupters will be playing in downtown Chicago at the Gene Siskel Film Theatre for one more week. The film has been showing to sold out audiences, so get your tickets in advance!

Don't live in Chicago? Check out this schedule to see where else the film will be showing.

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