Peace keeper: Ricardo ‘Cobe’ Williams is featured in The Interrupters, will be available for a question and answer session at tonight’s screening. *Photo supplied
Peace keeper: Ricardo ‘Cobe’ Williams is featured in The Interrupters, will be available for a question and answer session at tonight’s screening. *Photo supplied

The Interrupters ****

• Date: October 21

• Time: 8pm

• Director: Steve James

• Rating: A

• Runtime: 142 minutes

 

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 21: The Interrupters is a film for anyone concerned about the gang situation in Bermuda.

The idea of having ex-gang members speak on a street level to those caught in the clutches of violence is hardly new, but the troop of “violence interrupters” in this two-and-a-half hour film, demonstrate how it is done with compassion, empathy and utter perseverance.

This highly emotive documentary is shot during a period when Chicago was a national symbol for gang violence. The city was plagued with high-profile incidents, most notably the brutal beating to death of Derrion Albert, a Chicago High School student. The event was caught on camera and broadcast across the media.

The Interrupters follows the work of ex-gang members — Ricardo ‘Cobe’ Williams, Ameena Matthews and Eddie Bocanegra. Their mission is to stop the killing on the streets of Chicaco but they do so much more than that.

Many will find it hard to believe that all it takes to get through to many violent criminals and gang members is having time to listen, talk to rather than down to them, and to be non-judgemental.

It works, to a certain extent, but the beauty of this film is its honesty — no one suggests that this is an easy ride. The effort that goes into the work of a violence interrupter work is monumental.

The Interrupters is not a touchy feely documentary, it takes courage to walk into the middle of two feuding gangs and close down the potential for violence using your voice alone.

Ameena, ex-gang enforcer and daughter of notorious gang leader Jeff Fort, does just that during one particularly powerful scene. She separates one young boy, who can’t be more than 13-years-old, into the middle of the group and poses the question “whose fault will it be if this little boy is killed”? They listen to her every word, they nod in agreement and even take her card at the end of the ordeal.

We see Cobe dealing with one particularly aggressive gang member, ‘Flamo’, whose house had just been raided by the police and a family member arrested. His temper was raging and he had several guns on his person.

As he approaches breaking point screaming “what can you do for me?”, Cobe calmly tells him “I just need to get to know you better”. Flamo is visibly surprised when he invites him to talk over some lunch and a life/death scenario turns into the start of a working friendship.

“As long as they are still there to talk to, then you still have a chance,” says Cobe.

Candid

The Interrupters offers an intimate insight into the lives of gangsters and a surprisingly candid view of life on the streets. There are no blurred out faces protecting people’s identities. In part this is thanks to Academy Award-winning director Steve James’ decision to have a minimal film crew — he handled the camera himself to eliminate the need for another crewmember on the scene.

We are also given an insight in to the lives of the three interrupters which adds even more depth to the documentary. They each have their own battles and demons to fight with and all have their own approaches to the solution. Ameena’s is very much a tough-love approach. Cobe’s calm and gentle demeanour proves infectious while Eddie, the only one of the three with a murder conviction, inspires young people, who are dealing with the effects of violence, through art.

Another good reason to watch this film is that the Violence Interrupter Programme, created by anti-violence group CeaseFire, is something that is being considered for Bermuda. This programme could have a direct effect on our island and Cobe Williams will be hosting a question and answer session after the film. The programme is the brainchild of epidemiologist Gary Slutkin who likens the spread of violence to that of an infectious disease.

The question you may ask yourself is when watching this film is, “do you need to be an ex-gang member to be able to help in this way?” The answer is, it certainly helps. They speak the language, they can share their own stories from the streets and are symbols in themselves of hope and redemption.

But the film suggests that the community at large needs to change its approach — we need to create a dialogue with those involved in gangs and we need to provide an avenue for their voices to be heard.

As Cobe told the Bermuda Sun in Wednesday’s interview: “the community has to listen more and not down nobody — listen to them and see what they are coming with and build relationships with them.”