The Interrupters’ screening raises consciousness about violence in Chicago

Leah Varjacques

The new Steve James documentary, “The Interrupters” was sold out in many Chicago cinemas when it opened late this summer. Last night’s free screening of the film at Block Cinema was no exception.

The event, co-presented by Northwestern’s Center for the Writing Arts, Center for Civic Engagement and Medill, was highly publicized throughout campus and over the Internet, drawing in a full house.

“It’s the fullest I’ve ever seen it, where people had to give up the seats they were saving” said Carleen Corys, a retired special education teacher from West Rogers Park who has been coming to events at the Block Cinema for the past five years.

Undergraduate and graduate students, professors, community members and residents of Evanston and the surrounding area gathered for the showing and a “talkback” with Eddie Bocanegra, one of the film’s protagonists, and Alex Kotlowitz, a senior lecturer at Medill, award-winning author and journalist and the film’s producer.

The two-hour long documentary follows three “interrupters,” or outreach workers, from the grassroots organization CeaseFire during one year. These volunteers work to prevent violence in troubled Chicago neighborhoods by forging relationships with the community and campaigning against shootings. The film depicts the dedicated efforts and struggles of volunteers who have learned from their own criminal pasts to make a difference in others’ lives and strive for the betterment of community.

“We read about it, but the story of Chicago violence isn’t really seen, and it’s an important one,” said Elizabeth Miller, a Communication senior who said she was most struck by the vivid portrayal of the humanity of the victims, the perpetrators of violence and their families.

“The film added a new perspective, a new lens to a side of the city I’ve never seen firsthand, and it was uplifting to see the efforts of CeaseFire,” Miller said.

Colleges, universities and high schools throughout the country have requested screenings of the film, which has already been shown in most of the troubled communities where the film takes place, Kotlowitz said.

“It’s important to get it seen by a broad audience, by people who wouldn’t have a reason to spend time in these communities, and tell these stories to get people to think of themselves in the world differently, to challenge their assumptions and see things through a different prism,” Kotlowitz said.

Several audience members were inspired by CeaseFire’s efforts and asked how to help. Bocanegra called the documentary a gift for CeaseFire, which he said is threatened by big losses in funding and needs donations.

“I plead you to really take this with you and that this will inspire you to contribute, ” he said.

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