Kartemquin Films has developed a national outreach campaign that builds on the film’s acclaim with critics and festival audiences worldwide as we continue on through 2012. The Interrupters Community Engagement Campaign uses the documentary as the centerpiece of a two-year effort to engage audiences and communities in reflection, discussion and action around the structural causes of street violence, and creative approaches for interrupting the cycle of retaliatory violence.
A MESSAGE FROM THE OUTREACH TEAM
When director Steve James and producer Alex Kotlowitz set out to make The Interrupters, their hope was to change the conversation around violence. As James said back in February of 2011, “We hope The Interrupters will play some role in communities-in-need and the film will be part of the solution to these issues.” For each outreach event, it has been the Outreach Team’s aim to involve at least one of the interrupters featured in the film and/or involve local violence prevention organizations that are familiar with what is being done to prevent violence at the local level. With members of these organizations sharing their own personal struggles with street violence combined with the influence of a youth group that offers an alternative to the streets via sports, dance or even basic job skills training, the Outreach Team is confident that not only have we begun a conversation about the problems, but we’ve begun a conversation about solutions.
In July of 2011, nearly a month before the film’s theatrical release, The Interrupters celebrated its first major outreach event with The Interrupters Youth Media Summit on Chicago’s Columbia College campus. The event brought together nearly 100 Chicago area high school students from different neighborhoods, races and communities to watch the film, meet the filmmakers, but most importantly it gave young people an opportunity to tell adults about their own experiences with the violence that plagues their lives’ daily. The most repeated phrase from these high school students that day was, “We need to show The Interrupters in my school”.
In early November, we were able to expand the idea of the Chicago Youth Media Summit at Columbus, Ohio’s Wexner Center where over 700 area high school students screened the film. Following the screening, the students broke into groups to brainstorm solutions to the violence they faced daily in their own schools and communities. Columbus City School Superintendent Gene Harris explained, “What we hope to get out of it is an opportunity for continued leadership development for our students. Student-to-student communication can be very powerful.”
But while reaching out to high schools has been a major goal of The Interrupter Outreach plan, we’ve also been able to screen the film at Youth Correctional Facilities as well. The film has been screened for both youth and adult inmates, probation officers, judges, public defenders and state’s attorneys. One Juvenile Court judge in the Chicago area has made the film required viewing for youth on probation for any kind of gun case or one involving violence.
As The Interrupters continued to open theatrically in cities throughout the country, we were able to work with local theatres and use the screenings to begin to take action immediately following the film. At nearly 50 theatrical bookings held from July to January 2012, local theaters were gracious enough to allow local violence prevention groups to talk directly to moviegoers at post-screening Q&As. These theatrical Q&As put the energy of a community screening into movie theatres as local violence prevention groups were able to speak to moviegoers and tell them how they too could take action.
In November, the City of Milwaukee sponsored two screenings of The Interrupters through support from Harley-Davidson Motor Company. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, attended one of the screenings and explained, “Screening The Interrupters in Milwaukee has provided an opportunity for some blunt discussions about violence, the consequences of violence, and violence prevention. It also shares some very human messages about hope in some seemingly hopeless situations.”
The Milwaukee screening was just the first in a series of community screenings of The Interrupters that have partnered with national and even international city halls. In December, a free screening of The Interrupters was sponsored by Philadelphia’s Mayor Michael Nutter and the Mayor’s Commission on African American Males at the Pearl Theatre. This screening brought together a myriad of the city’s organizations from the Philadelphia CeaseFire to youth-led dance troupe, The Dollar Boyz. In February, Oakland’s City Hall held a free public screening, while in Chicago The Interrupters Team screened pieces of the film for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his staff as well as Chicago Public School CEO Jean-Claude Brizard.
In March, the City of Toronto was able to coordinate two screenings for youth from across the city as well as violence prevention workers at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. The Interrupters, Cobe Williams was able to share with Toronto audiences his own perspective as a violence interrupter and what they can do to help prevent violence in their own communities.
It is The Interrupters Outreach Team’s plan to have a varied collection of Interrupters Modules available via interruptviolence.com by April 2012. The intent for these modules will be for classroom use, but with a length of approximately 5-15 minutes for each module, these condensed stories will allow for a longer in depth conversation at any community screening as well. Whether a teacher wants to focus on the mentor/mentee relationship of Cobe Williams and Lil’ Mikey or they want to examine Ameena Matthews’s own personal redemption story, The Interrupters Modules will engage the viewer on a number of diverse topics and hopefully transform a classroom discussion into a plan of action.
Ultimately, The Interrupters Engagement Strategy will continue its partnership with communities throughout the United States and over the globe beyond 2012. Whether it has been an inner city Chicago classroom or a community center in Paget, Bermuda, audiences have continued to recognize the power and emotion of The Interrupters. However, it seems clear that the impact of this film and the change it creates has just begun.
The Interrupters Team would like to thank our funders for making this film and our outreach campaign possible:
-Chicago’s Roosevelt University Screening-
“The audience was thrilled to have Eddie, Cobe, and Ameena there to answer questions. We had a pastor in the audience who was so moved by the work of the Interrupters that he asked them to sign his personal bible- it was lovely. This was the 4th time that I have seen the film and I am still moved and inspired by the work that ceasefire does every time!” – Nikita, Roosevelt University
-Milwaukee Mayor’s Office-
“The two screenings were tremendously successful. Thank you all for allowing these to take place. I think we had about 320-340 all together. We raised 100+ food items, and over 100 pairs of gloves/mittens were collected for Head Start last night. Cobe attended last night’s screening-he deserves great credit for coming back up to Milwaukee. Mayor Tom Barrett spoke as did two Aldermen. The theatre was 98% full, and Cobe was great with the Q&A. Alderwoman Coggs would like to do a screening for youth in her district, and there was talk from a couple organizations doing a screening as well.” – David, City of Milwaukee
-Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church Screening-
“My purpose for organizing the event was to engage our Tutoring participants (students, tutors and parents) in a film that was not only thought provoking but more importantly action provoking. One of the students, Shane’Qua, just told me tonight how much she enjoyed the film and has already talked to her school about screening it for their students. Some response from our tutors has been:
“I am better aware of the social environment of my student.”
“It gave me better insight into the life of some of the kids’ neighborhoods and Chicago.”
“Well meaning, intelligent, thought provoking, eye opening…”
“Thanks for doing this. It was fabulous. Even better seeing it the second time!”
-Alex, Chicago Lights Tutoring and Summerday
-Oakland’s ITVS Screening at the Oakland Museum-
“It was great to see and hear from the youth during the discussion- many who shared comments and asked Eddie and Ameena for advice on how to deal with siblings in prison, deaths in their families and the challenges of being youth violence interrupters in Oakland. Many young people stayed long after the event to meet and talk with Ameena and Eddie, it was really touching to see the open respect and admiration our youth had for them. It was truly a great night and we are so appreciative of all the hard work from your team to make it possible!” – Sara, ITVS
-Palos Heights, IL’s Trinity Christian College-
“We wanted to show the film because we were looking for a way to promote local justice and justice efforts among the student body here at Trinity. Everyone in attendance was blown away by the film, and having Cobe there to talk about it made the experience better than I could have hoped. People have still been making comments to me about how powerful the film was and we were able to have a time of prayer for those involved in local violence, as well as those who are working to stop it, which was good for the entire Trinity community to take part in.” – Hollie, Trinity Christian College
-Chicago’s Cook County Corrections-
“I had an initial screening for about 20 probation officers, a few judges, some public defenders and state’s attorneys and about 20 kids and their parents shortly after I got the DVD. Since then my probation staff has been showing it every 2 months or so in the juvenile court building on a Saturday. I have been “assigning” the movie to kids on probation for any kind of gun case or one involving violence. I thought you’d want to know that your movie is being put to good use, being seen by some of those who are most at risk. I am certain that it is having an impact, at least on some kids, for which we are grateful.” – Andy, Cook County Juvenile Court Judge
“I’m a 19 year old student from London. I’m doing nothing near as much as Ameena, Cobe and Eddie but their stories are so inspiring. I was moved to tears by some of what the community members had gone through and I feel a new-found faith in humanity through the incredible work of the ceasefire association. I really believe it is one of the most wonderful pieces of cinema that I have seen. Thank you for raising my awareness.” – Laura, London
-University of Chicago-
“The screening was great. Largely students and alums from the Urban Teacher Education Program and the School of Social Work, just the people who need to see the efforts to curb the violence that has such a huge impact on their work. Eddie was terrific.” - Marv, University of Chicago
-St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands-
“We had several young people involved in court-appointed jobs with a local group that trains them in basic construction skills attend with mentors, as did several people from the domestic violence agency in St. Thomas. The film had an enormous impact on those attending. The scene that was most affecting to the majority was the confrontation of the young man with those in the barber shop.” – Joan, The Forum
-International High School – Patterson, New Jersey-
“Our school screening saw over five-hundred of Paterson’s at-risk youth in attendance for the film and the special presentation that took place afterwards. Mr. Thompson, who is a CeaseFire director and a member of the staff of the YMCA in Yonkers, NY, along with his team, put together a very informative, energetic, and memorable session with our students. They answered a number of questions and also recanted their experiences as violence interrupters. The assembly was all our students talked about for days after it occurred and we received very positive feedback from the faculty and staff here at International High School and Garrett Morgan Academy. NJCDC was thrilled to have made a connection with a number of organizations that hope to bring issues like gang violence to the public in order to create a more peaceful society.” – Vincent, NJCDC
-Gary Comer College Prep - Chicago-
“The impact of this film is the unspoken question it asks everyone that watches it; the question of “would I do what they’re doing? Is my belief in people strong enough? What am I doing to break this cycle of violence, or am I just ignoring it because I might live in a different part of the city, or have a different skin color?” The actions of the Interrupters highlight society’s continued inaction in dealing with this problem.” - Quincy - Gary Comer College Prep Teacher
-Civic Frame – Baltimore-
“Thank you for allowing us share to The Interrupters. This is OUTSTANDING for Baltimore! A great mix of persons were present. Lots of gasps, shouting at the screen (“Oh no you didn’t talk to your mama like that!), cheers (FLAMO!), and plenty of tears. Folks were very moved by the woman who left her sons in her apartment to escape the violence, the family who visited their son’s grave every day, and every word that came out of Ameena’s mouth and every person she interacted with. Our panel discussion was FIRE! We started with what was an extraordinarily FRANK (bad words and all) conversation about the realities of what is happening in families, communities, and policy, and the mentality that hinders funding from being applied properly toward violence prevention rather than incarceration. Additionally, some of the Safe Streets violence interrupters shared their insights. The audience was on the edge of their seats. The film is a gem.” – April, Civic Frame
-Philadelphia Mayor’s Office-
“After The Interrupters screening, we had a great conversation led by Mayor Nutter about how the movie made you feel and how you could get your friends and neighbors engaged. Mayor Nutter really wants to get more young people to see this message. After the screening, the Mayor, his Chief of Staff, Aide, Communications Director and myself went to dinner and debriefed and we are considering doing a city-wide youth violence summit in October of next year. We would love The Interrupters to be a part of the conversation. City council, teachers, parents, “interrupters” alike all wanted their own copies.” – Erica, City of Philadelphia
-Street-Level Youth Media – Chicago-
“When it comes to violence in America, there’s more than meets the eye. The participants of violence have a background story to why they do what they do. America’s ignorance on street violence needs to stop and do something for the violence and lives of the youngsters. The most impactful story is when the 19 year old teen girl [Caprysha] was in the gang life but she wanted to get out. She had problems in her family with her mother. She lived a hard life and that changes who you are but you can still change who you are for the best. This film helps to show that violence leads to nowhere and the kids are the most effected.” – Anonymous Teenager – Street-Level Youth Media
-Voice of the City - Chicago-
“I am an educator, so seeing the children in schools talk about their fears was very moving. It was comforting and necessary for me to put a face with those in action – news reports don’t show the whole picture. I like that they stressed conversation & relationships. Following the screening, it was great to dialogue with teenagers, neighbors and others committed to improving the community.” - Concerned Educator - Attended Voice of the City Screening