The Interrupters directed by Steve James



The Interrupters Directed by Steven James, ISBN: 9781608836345

Plot Summary: This is the second of the two nonfiction movies I’m featuring about Chicago. It focuses on violence, especially gang violence in Chicago, and the organization that works to stop it. Ceasefire was started to combat gang violence in inner city Chicago. One of their most effective programs is the Interrupters program that employs former gang members to intervene during violent acts. These people are from the neighborhoods they work in, familiar with the gangs, but also the culture of violence that is so prevalent in these neighborhoods where violence is seen as the only way to respond to insults, other attacks, and rival gang members in another gang’s territory. The war between gangs in Chicago has claimed many innocent lives, most notably those of children and teens who aren’t in gangs. Through these interventions, Interrupters attempt to show teens that violence is not the only acceptable response, and in the process, lead some teens to a better life.

Critical Evaluation: This is in some ways a slower moving story than “Louder than a Bomb.” There are scenes of the movie that capture real violence and interventions, but for some reason, I didn’t feel as caught up in the moment of this story. For the most part, I think this is a very well made movie that perhaps most importantly, does not sugarcoat. The mood of the movie is especially well done. While some parts move slower than others, we are presented with mostly grim situations where teens can’t really see another way but violence. It is made all the more heartbreaking when we see the cases of innocent lives taken far too soon as a result of this violence. I think my favorite scene is that of a teen’s funeral, and the tearful goodbyes that his classmates make, as well as the speech one Interrupter makes to rally for a reevaluation of the current neighborhood climate. There are hopeful moments, as when one man, through an intervention, does not retaliate and eventually gets a job. However, there is still something bittersweet about moments like this, where the job is not seen as very fulfilling. Perhaps this is meant to question the system where low income people are expected to work low paying, unfulfilling jobs in the face of the apparent riches available for gang members.

Still, characters are very well developed here. Each of the Interrupters has a chance to tell their story: how they got into gangs and violence, and what led them to become an Interrupter. One such story is that of a Latino man who went to jail for killing another teen. He is shown working with children in his old neighborhood and looking at the topic of violence through the medium of art. Several teens are also featured throughout the movie, like one teen in a rehabilitation house after going to a juvenile detention center. The Interrupter spends a lot of time with this teen, not only working through her anger and violent tendencies, but also demonstrating a better way to live, and pampering her so that she sees her worth and beauty.

Reader’s Annotation: Being a teenager is hard, especially if you live in the violence torn inner city streets where teens and children can get shot with no warning. Watch this movie for one look at a solution to the violence, and how teens can do their part too.

Information about the director: Steve James is an award winning director, producer and co-editor for the movie “Hoop Dreams.”  Most of his movies have been documentaries.  Quite a few have won awards.

For creating “The Interrupters,” Steve says he was inspired by an article by Chicago writer, Alex Kotlowitz, to make a movie about Ceasefire. He felt that a movie had the potential to reach a broader audience on this issue.  However, it was a difficult movie to film because it required assessing each situation to see if it was safe enough for Steve and his crew to get close enough to film.

Genre: Nonfiction movie

Curriculum ties, if any: This movie has been used in high school sociology classes before, and would provide an opportunity in a variety of classes to discuss violence and possible solutions or alternatives to the use of violence.

Booktalking Ideas: This is a movie I would encourage compassionate teens to watch, so I would impress upon them the real life violence encountered and the solutions Ceasefire comes up with to combat them. In general for teens, I might ask them if they are aware of gangs in their neighborhood, or ever hear about teens in their areas getting killed by gang violence. Once it becomes slightly more relatable, I think teens would be interested to see what happens next.

Reading Level/Interest Age:  The featured Interrupters in this movie are adults, but most of the people that they work with are teens. This is probably not a movie that a teen would gravitate to for entertainment, but I think conscientious older teens would value the story and a look at an epidemic that affects them whether they live in Chicago or not.

Challenge Issues:

  • Language
  • Violence

Defense Strategy:

  1. First, I would want to be familiar with movie. As I’ve watched this movie, I’d be aware of potential issues that could be challenged. In the case of a book or movie I was not as familiar with, I would want to have access to reviews.
  2. Then I would put together a rationale for why this movie is included in the collection. This rationale would include:
    • Bibliographic Citation of the movie.
    • A description of who the movie is best suited for.
    • A summary of the movie and applicable other information, such as biographical information about the author.
    • My justification for including the movie. This would include how it fits in with the selection policy and library mission statement, and include its educational significance if applicable or the impact it could have on readers.
    • Copy of selection policy and library mission statement at my library.
    • ALA Library Bill of Rights
    • Good and bad reviews of the movie
    • Alternative works a student could read or watch
    • Reconsideration form if patron is not satisfied with rationale
  3. When talking to patron, I would listen to their concerns without getting on the defensive and attempt to sympathize with their concerns. In some cases, all an upset patron needs is to be able to vent and know that someone is listening to them.
  4. If needed, I would send the challenge up the chain of command.

This is an important movie to watch because it represents a situation that is very real for some teens. Just today, I read an article in the paper about a 14 year old boy who was shot while riding through his former neighborhood. This movie represents teens who live that life day to day, but also provides a glimpse of the situation to other teens. This movie has the potential to change the way teens think about gangs and violence, and in some cases, to explore alternative solutions to these situations. Censoring it because of the language or difficult situations does nothing to help solve the problem.

Why did you include this movie? : After talking to my sister, who watched it in her sociology class, I decided that it did apply more to teens than I originally anticipated. It does not have quite the same hopeful ending as “Louder than a Bomb,” but presents a reality I think it is important to address.

Reference Page:

Filmmakers (2011). The Interrupters website. Retrieved from

Khan, A. (February 14, 2012). Q&A: Filmmaker Steve James on making “The Interrupters.” PBS Frontline. Retrieved from


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  1. Pingback: Alphabetical List of Titles | let's talk about that book...

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