A cry of hope from communities of despair.
This riveting documentary from Hoop Dreams director Steve James follows a handful of “violence interrupters” whose job it is to intervene in disputes in crime-ridden Chicago neighborhoods before the arguments lead to bloodshed. They do this not only through their physical presence, but through something even more powerful: showing the potentially violent “offenders” that they matter, that they’re worthy of respect and care.
That’s the common approach taken by the three different interrupters we meet, each of whom has a criminal past of their own and now works for an organization called CeaseFire. When Ameena Matthews, a former gang member and daughter of infamous Chicago gang leader Jeff Fort, confronts a teen girl who has been in and out of delinquent centers, it’s not with condemnation, but with this message: “Do you want to be loved? Absolutely. Do you deserve to be loved? Absolutely.”
You couldn’t dream up more stirring drama than that scene, captured from a respectful distance by James’ camera. The director doesn’t fuss around much at all, and in this post-Michael Moore age of documentary filmmaking, that comes as a relief. Simply offering a glance at some doom-laden graffiti scrawled on a wall (“I’m next”) is all the technique the movie needs. The rest of its virtue lies in being there, capturing both the sickening violence and hounding love taking place on these forsaken streets.