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Former gang members try to stop the violence on the streets of Chicago in THE INTERRUPTERS

THE INTERRUPTERS (Steve James, 2011)
Symphony Space, Leonard Nimoy Thalia
2537 Broadway at 95th St.
Sunday, January 29, $13, 4:45

For The Interrupters, director, producer, and editor Steve James (Hoop Dreams, At the Death House Door) teamed up with journalist Alex Kotlowitz (There Are No Children Here) to hit the dangerous inner-city streets of Chicago with the men and women of CeaseFire, a grass-roots organization of former gang members who are now trying to stop the violence. Inspired by Kotlowitz’s New York Times Magazine article, the two men concentrate on three primary stories. Ameena Matthews, the Muslim daughter of notorious gang leader Jeff Fort, is working with a deeply troubled young woman who’d rather fight than flee, even if it means being sent back to prison. Cobe Williams has his hands full with the angry, recently released Flamo, who thinks the whole world is against him. And Eddie Bocanegra is attempting to come to grips with a cold-blooded revenge murder he committed when he was a teenager by visiting schools and talking about turning his life around. One of the most poignant moments of the film occurs when Williams brings Lil Mikey back to the barbershop he and several of his cohorts robbed at gunpoint as he again faces some of his victims. Matthews, Williams, and Bocanegra are paid employees of CeaseFire, which was founded by Dr. Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist who believes that violence is a disease that can be treated in similar ways, and is run by Tio Hardman, who handles his extremely tough task with intelligence and dignity as he deals with what he calls “the madness.” But in a society in which “words’ll get you killed,” as Matthews says early on, these tireless violence interrupters put their own lives on the line every day, battling a sickness that seems to have no end in sight. The award-winning film, a hit at numerous film festivals, felt a bit long at its original 144 minutes, but James edited it down to a more streamlined 124 minutes for its recent theatrical release. The Interrupters is screening January 29 at 4:45 as part of Symphony Space’s “Thalia Film Sundays” series, which continues in February with Patrick Takaya Solomon’s Finding Joe and Philipp Stölzl’s Young Goethe in Love.

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