*Over the course of a year, filmmakers shadowed three ex gang members in Chicago known as Violence Interrupters, whose sole purpose is to sense when violence is about to jump off, then, step in and stop it from happening.
Filmmaker Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) and author Alex Kotlowitz (“There Are No Children Here”) embedded themselves with Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams and Eddie Bocanegra as the trio used whatever street cred and gift of gab they could muster to keep young men and women from going down the path of no return.
The footage has been made into the two-hour award-winning documentary “The Interrupters,” which premieres Tuesday (Feb. 14) at 9 p.m. on PBS as part of its Frontline series. [Check local listings.]
This must-see film captures Ameena, Cobe and Eddie inserting themselves into numerous unstable situations, including two brothers in opposite gangs threatening to shoot each other; a frustrated teenage girl just home from prison, brewing tensions in a group home and a young man hell bent on revenge.
The film also takes time to explore the personal journeys of the three Interrupters. Ameena’s father, Jeff Fort, was the co-founder of Chicago’s notorious Black P. Stones gang. She followed him into the gang lifestyle and got caught up with a drug ring before eventually turning to Islam, leaving the illegal activity behind and joining the Interrupters – a part of Chicago’s violence prevention program CeaseFire.
“Nine times out of ten, the people that we deal with, the participants that we deal with, they know us from our past,” Ameena told critics at the Television Critics Association press tour last month. “And if we’re talking them down from a situation that they may have known from our past, and we may have reacted in a way that they felt is justifiable for them, and we’re talking them down, it’s really profound for them to sit back and say, damn, she or he is telling me to stand down and I know for a fact back in the day what you would have done, what you did do, so maybe I need to sit back and take a look and weigh the consequences all the way out.” [Scroll down to watch Ameena in a clip from the film.]
Below, Ameena says there are multiple ways for anyone to be an Interrupter. She also reveals the differences between intervening on boys and girls, and the film’s producer-director Steve James explains just how seriously Ameena takes her job.