Anya Jaremko-Greenwold talks to director Steve James about his new documentary The Interrupters.
In this new documentary, producer Alex Kotlowitz and director Steve James, director of 1994’s award-winning Hoop Dreams, spend a year following a Chicago organization called CeaseFire, a group working tirelessly to lessen the amount of violence plaguing their city. These “Interrupters” of violence are reformed criminals themselves, thus they understand the anger, hurt, and frustration that can elicit such acts; but the Interrupters aim to break this vicious cycle. The Interrupters are not trying to disband gangs; rather, their aims are more simple, as they physically step between deadly conflicts and attempt to talk people out of killing. The Interrupters themselves stand as inspiring examples of how people can change. As the film suggests, violence is a learned behavior and not what human beings truly feel is right. By engaging native Chicagoans in real, honest conversation, these Interrupters help them to do one of the hardest things in life: forget retaliation and just let it go. I sat down with director Steve James to discuss the film.
Anya Jaremko-Greenwold In filming people like this, at their most vulnerable or violent or furious, what keeps it from being exploitation, putting the pain of others on-screen and selling it?
Steve James That’s one of the hard questions of documentary filmmaking. You can make documentaries about happy subjects or comedies, where you come out with a little pep in your step. But a lot of the documentaries that get made, and that many of us love are films dealing with people in difficult circumstances in their lives, and the power of showing that is unmistakable. I think it’s all in how you approach the people in the course of making the film and how you present their stories. I always want to feel like I’m a human being at the end of the day, not just a filmmaker. Sometimes that line is tricky to navigate . . . .