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November 30, 2012, 7:00 P.M.

Norris Cinema Theatre/Frank Sinatra Hall, 3507 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles, CA 90007

The School of Cinematic Arts, Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics, Visions and Voices: The USC Arts & Humanities Initiative, Cinema Guild and Kartemquin Films, in partnership with the USC Office of Religious Life, African American Cinema Society (AACS), and the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity, invite you and a guest to a special screening of

The Interrupters

Directed and Photographed by Steve James
Produced by Alex Kotlowitz and Steve James
Hosted by SCA Alumnus John Singleton
Followed by a Q&A with Steve James,
Eddie Bocanegra and Ameena Matthews, moderated by SCA Vice Dean Michael Renov
7:00 P.M. on Friday, November 30th, 2012
Norris Cinema Theatre/Frank Sinatra Hall
3507 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles, CA 90007

The RSVP list is NOW OPEN.

Winner of over a dozen awards, including Best Documentary, 2012 Independent Spirit Awards

Voted top documentary of 2011 by National Critics Polls conducted by Village Voice and IndieWire

Official Selection, Sundance Film Festival, 2011
Special Jury Award, Full Frame Film Festival, 2011
Special Jury Award, Sheffield Doc/Fest, 2011

About The Interrupters

The Interrupters are a group of men and women in Chicago, most of them former gang leaders and drug dealers who have been participants in the brutality of the streets. A mix of African-Americans and Latinos, they work for CeaseFire, the brainchild of epidemiologist Gary Slutkin, who once battled infectious diseases in Africa. The singular mission of the “violence interrupters” is to interrupt the next shooting, to arbitrate disputes before they escalate and turn violent.  Slutkin believes the spread of violence mimics that of infectious diseases so the treatment should be similar: go after the most infected. His methods have been employed in such wide-ranging places as Baghdad and Baltimore. Chicago is CeaseFire’s home.

With Interrupters as guides, the film plunges viewers into the heart of their communities, where we become privy to the violence that makes national news, like the fatal beating of Derrion Albert, as well as those incidents which play out anonymously with numbing regularity.  

Three Interrupters are our main characters. Eddie Bocanegra, studying to become social worker, tries to make amends for his murder of a rival gang member when he was just 17. Amena Matthews, daughter of the legendary gang leader, Jeff Fort, has a reputation for toughness that enables her to walk into volatile situations on the street with immunity. And Cobe Williams, whose father was murdered when he was twelve, and who mediates disputes with humor and verve.   

Our Interrupters reveal their own stories while taking us deep into the troubled lives of others: a family where two brothers have threatened to kill each other; an angry teenaged girl just home from prison, desperate for guidance; a young man on a warpath of revenge. We hope to create a powerful and probing look at the chronic tragedy of violence in our cities.

Provided courtesy of Cinema Guild. Not rated. Running time: 125 minutes.

To learn more and to view the trailer, visit:

Official Facebook Page:


About the Guests

STEVE JAMES -- Director, Producer, Cinematographer, Editor

Steve James is best known as the award-winning director, producer, and co-editor of Kartemquin’s Hoop Dreams, which won every major critics award as well as a Peabody and Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in 1995. The film earned Steve the Directors Guild of America Award, The MTV Movie Awards “Best New Filmmaker” and an Oscar nomination for editing. Hoop Dreams was selected for the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, signifying the film’s enduring importance to American film history. Steve’s other award-winning films produced with Kartemquin include Stevie, winner of major festival awards at Sundance, Amsterdam, Yamagata and Philadelphia; the PBS series, The New Americans, which won the prestigious 2004 International Documentary Association Award for Best Limited Series; At the Death House Door, which won numerous festivals and was Steve’s fourth film to be officially short-listed for the Academy Award; and No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson for ESPN Films' International Documentary Association-winning series 30 for 30.

The Interrupters is Steve’s sixth film in partnership with Kartemquin and his fifth film to play at the Sundance Film Festival. The film will be broadcast on PBS' Frontline in late 2011. Steve’s other work includes The War Tapes, which he produced and edited, and which won the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival Grand Prize.

EDDIE BOCANEGRA -- CeaseFire Violence Interrupter

Eddie Bocanegra, who’s 34, has been a violence interrupter for the past two years. He spent 14 years in prison for a murder he committed when he was 17. He’s presently working towards his social work degree at Northeastern University. In addition to his work with CeaseFire, Eddie has started a therapeutic support group for mothers who have lost children to violence and teaches art in the schools and in summer programs run by Enlace Chicago, a community organization in Little Village, the neighborhood where he grew up. His mentors at CeaseFire have been two experienced interrupters, Zale Hoddenbach and Eddie Lopez.

AMEENA MATTHEWS -- CeaseFire Senior Violence Interrupter

Ameena Matthews has been with CeaseFire for three-and-a-half years as a Senior Violence Interrupter. The mother of four children – two who are grown and two who are ages 12 and 9 – she is married to Abdur Rasheed Matthews, who is the Iman at the Al Haqqani Mosque & Community Center. Ameena, who grew up in Englewood on the city’s South Side, is the daughter of Jeff Fort, one of the city’s most infamous gang leaders. In the 1960s, the El Rukns, which were under Fort’s leadership, were seen by some as a catalyst for positive growth in their neighborhoods. Fort is now serving time in prison for drug trafficking and terrorism charges; he was alleged to have conspired to commit terrorist acts on behalf of Libya in exchange for money. Ameena credits her family and her early life experiences with her desire to educate and effect change in the neighborhoods that she calls home.

JOHN SINGLETON -- Host, SCA Alumnus, Writer/Director (Boyz N the Hood)

John Singleton has the distinct honor of being the youngest person (at age 24) and first ever African American nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Director. His first feature film, 1991’s Boyz N the Hood, brought the struggles of South Central Los Angeles to mainstream audiences, and was a critical and box office success, landing him Oscar® nominations for Best Director and Original Screenplay. Other films as a writer/director/producer include: Poetic Justice, Higher Learning, Shaft and Baby Boy. He also directed Rosewood, 2 Fast 2 Furious and Four Brothers. Through his New Deal Productions, he produced the independent films Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan and Illegal Tender. His latest feature film is Abduction, starring Taylor Lautner and Sigourney Weaver. Singleton is an alum of the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts.

MICHAEL RENOV, Ph.D. -- Moderator, Cinematic Arts Vice Dean of Academic Affairs

Michael Renov, Professor of Critical Studies and Vice Dean for Academic Affairs, is the author of Hollywood's Wartime Woman: Representation and Ideology and The Subject of Documentary, editor of Theorizing Documentary, and co-editor of Resolutions: Contemporary Video Practices, Collecting Visible Evidence, The SAGE Handbook of Film Studies and Cinema's Alchemist: The Films of Peter Forgacs.

In 1993, Renov co-founded Visible Evidence, a series of international and highly interdisciplinary documentary studies conferences that have, to date, been held on four continents. He is one of three general editors for the Visible Evidence book series at the University of Minnesota Press, which has published 25 volumes on various aspects of nonfiction media since 1997. In 2005, he co-programmed the 51st annual Robert Flaherty Seminar, a week-long gathering of documentary filmmakers, curators and educators, creating 20 screening programs and filmmaker dialogues on the theme "Cinema and History."

In addition to curating documentary programs around the world, he has served as a jury member at documentary festivals including Sundance, Silverdocs, the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival, Brazil's It's All True and the International Environmental Festival of Film and Video, also in Brazil. He has  taught graduate seminars at the University of Stockholm and Tel Aviv University and has led documentary workshops in Jordan for the Royal Film Commission and in Cyprus. Renov's teaching and research interests include documentary theory, autobiography in film and video, video art and activism and representations of the Holocaust.

Director's Statement

For me, making The Interrupters, feels like a homecoming. Since completing Hoop Dreams in 1994, I’ve made documentaries that have taken me to near and far-flung places - Southern Illinois, Texas, Fiji, Nigeria, and Virginia, among others - but I guess you could say my heart and soul belongs to Chicago. This film gave me a chance to return to some of the same streets and neighborhoods we traversed in Hoop Dreams. And while that film followed the fortunes of two families hoping to use basketball as a ticket out of poverty, the harsh realities of urban violence and despair suffused their lives then and now. In recent years, two main subjects from the film, Arthur’s dad Bo and William’s brother Curtis, were murdered. In both cases, these tragedies had a profound impact on the families. With the Agee’s, it led to Arthur’s mom moving away from Chicago and back to Alabama where she was born, while Arthur for a while drove his father’s car and wore some of his clothes in a desperate attempt to keep his memory alive. With William, his older brother’s death sent him spiraling down, and eventually to his calling as a minister.

Bo and Curtis were on my mind when I first read Alex’s New York Times Magazine cover story on CeaseFire ( Alex and I have been friends for about ten years. We met when an acquaintance decided we should know each other. I already knew Alex’s seminal book, There Are No Children Here. In it, he’d done something remarkable: spend extensive time with a family living in one of Chicago’s notorious housing projects. What emerged was a book that illuminated honestly and heartbreakingly the lives of two brothers exiled to the margins of our society like so many in these neighborhoods.

Alex’s NYT’s article on CeaseFire struck a chord with me in the way it vividly told the story of an organization trying to find a new way to impact what has seemed an intractable problem in these communities for decades, one that no longer made headlines, perhaps leaving people numb or resigned to it.

So I called Alex up and said, we may have found the film project to do together. He agreed so we began meeting with various CeaseFire staff and interrupters Alex had interviewed to see if a film was possible – and determine if it were plausible for us to gain real access to the work the interrupters do in the streets. Encouraged by their response and our fundraising success, filming began in earnest in the Spring of 2009. We shot over 300 hours during the next 14 months. The core team during the production phase was Alex, co-producer and sound recordist Zak Piper, and myself. We wanted to keep the crew small enough to encourage an essential intimacy and authenticity. For this reason, I also handled the camera to eliminate the need for one other crewmember. Alex had never been involved in a film like this before, but he proved to be a quick learner. Because he knew the landscape of the inner city so intimately from his other work, it felt like we were on the same wavelength from the start. And not surprisingly, he was a terrific interviewer.

The other core team member was talented editor Aaron Wickenden, who began cutting scenes in January of 2010, while our filming was in full swing. Aaron and I eventually tag- team edited once filming was largely complete. (Although we were a constant source of humor at Kartemquin Films because we never met a scene we didn’t want to film, even deep into the editing). A cynic might ask just how much editing was done given a running time of 2:24! Whether the film deserves and rewards its length is up to every viewer to decide. But for us as filmmakers, we felt it our duty to give the viewer the kind of complex, surprising, sometimes disturbing, sometimes incredibly moving experience in the theater that we were privy to over those 14 months. We want the film to be an immersive experience for the audience, one that plunges them into communities plagued by violence, while also allowing them to step back and understand it. We also hope The Interrupters challenges viewers on their assumptions about these communities, and encourages them to care. And maybe even to act. To that end, Kartemquin Films, which has been my filmmaking home since I began with Hoop Dreams, is attempting an ambitious outreach and civic engagement campaign around the film designed to ensure the film inspires a national discussion on violence prevention and is seen by the communities most affected by the issue. This is hardly unusual for Kartemquin; it’s a commitment we make on every documentary we produce. This is just one reason why I have chosen to continue making films with them for almost twenty years now.

People ask me, “Wasn’t it incredibly dangerous and depressing?” The truth is we never felt in any true danger, in large part because of the respect commanded by our interrupter subjects in their communities. Cobe, Ameena, and Eddie took good care of us. They are extraordinary people for the lives they’ve lived and the lives they’ve saved. Two men and one woman - ex-gangbangers, convicts and street players – who’d once been part of the violence they were now bravely trying to interrupt. And I was never depressed by what we filmed either. Maybe its because Cobe, Ameena, and Eddie inspired us with their own personal stories of redemption, and by giving us a chance to witness firsthand their impact on other people’s lives. And maybe it’s because they are such a joy to be around. I’ve told Cobe that he should have his own cable show in which all he does is call people on the phone to chat. He’s one of the most generous, and sweet people I’ve ever met, making it impossible to believe he’d done three stints in prison for everything from selling drugs to attempted murder. Eddie has to be one of the most sincere and thoughtful subjects I’ve come across. A man who committed the ultimate act of violence, and now commits himself so completely to helping others. And Ameena, who can take over every room she walks into with her charisma and personality, yet is also one of the most private subjects I’ve ever filmed.

In any long term filming process, trust between filmmakers and subjects become paramount, the key to access and intimacy. It didn’t happen overnight. It rarely does. In this film, the initial challenges were for people in the communities to understand that the film crew wasn’t tied to the police, and that the interrupters’ real focus in any mediation was on helping them, not filming them. We had an understanding with our interrupters that if a situation seemed potentially too dangerous or if our being there would compromise the mediation, we would stand down. This became an issue with Eddie in one of the Latino neighborhoods beset by gangs when he was told that we weren’t welcome there anymore. The more time we spent with our interrupters hanging with them even when a crisis wasn’t imminent – going to Cobe’s son’s football games or Ameena’s daughter’s birthday party - the more comfortable they became with us and the camera. That then translated to the streets where it was important that people understand why we were there, why we wanted to film them. Ultimately, they trusted the interrupters and believed we were not there to vilify and judge, but to illuminate and understand. That’s pretty much been my guiding principle as a filmmaker, and Alex’s as a writer. Nowhere was that more true then with this film.

Making The Interrupters was a gift. I became a documentary filmmaker because I wanted to understand people and communities other than the ones I’ve lived in. The best film experiences are akin to living inside a rich and surprising novel. Your own personal life and day-to-day worries tend to recede and pale in comparison as you bear witness to the lives and often profound struggles of others.
One of my favorite anecdotes from making the film occurred the day of the tense Englewood incident that is early in the film. In the midst of all the chaos, someone stole some of our film equipment that was stashed inside the CeaseFire Englewood office. When we discovered the theft, six interrupters sprang into action, jumping in cars and zooming off to find the young man someone had spotted trotting amicably away from the scene minutes earlier with a strange looking bag (or camera bag) over his shoulder. I was touched by their efforts and felt that this showed how much the interrupters had embraced us as friends, not just filmmakers who continually “stalked” them, as Ameena would often rib us. Minutes after they rode off, Ameena returned with the young perpetrator. At her urging – and who can possibly resist Ameena? – the young man handed the bag back over to me along with an sincere apology. Such was the respect he had for her.

Perhaps the most memorable moment for me was when we filmed Cobe taking Lil’ Mikey to the barbershop to apologize to a family and patrons he’d robbed at gunpoint three years earlier. That one scene is a microcosm for the whole film. Through that mother’s eyes we saw who Lil’ Mikey once was, capable of terrorizing a family and scarring them to this day. And we saw Lil Mikey today, determined to walk back in and sincerely apologize so that he can move on with his life in a completely positive direction. And months later when Lil Mikey finally landed a job at a day care center, we filmed him tenderly helping put small children down for their naps. A class X felon had befriended each of those precious children, even knew whose special blanket or pillow was whose. I had to wipe away the tears as I filmed. With Lil’ Mikey - and Ameena, and Cobe, and Eddie - we met people in this film that have done terrible things in their lives, but who now have found their way back to their true selves.

-- Steve James

Check-In & Reservations

This screening is free of charge and open to the public. Please bring a valid USC ID or print out of your reservation confirmation, which will automatically be sent to your e-mail account upon successfully making an RSVP through this website. Doors will open at 6:30 P.M.

All SCA screenings are OVERBOOKED to ensure seating capacity in the theater, therefore seating is not guaranteed based on RSVPs. The RSVP list will be checked in on a first-come, first-served basis until the theater is full. Once the theater has reached capacity, we will no longer be able to admit guests, regardless of RSVP status.


The USC School of Cinematic Arts is located at 900 W. 34th St., Los Angeles, CA 90007. Parking passes may be purchased for $10.00 at USC Entrance Gate #5, located at the intersection of W. Jefferson Blvd. & McClintock Avenue. We recommend parking in outdoor Lot M or V, or Parking Structure D, at the far end of 34th Street. Please note that Parking Structure D cannot accommodate tall vehicles such as SUVs. Metered street parking is also available along Jefferson Blvd.

About The USC Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics

The Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics, USC College, issues a Grand Challenge to every new student who comes to USC--to engage with, understand, and internalize the timeless values at the core of our humanity. The Institute collaborates with departments, professional schools, and programs across the university to bring students and faculty together with authors and artists, philosophers and practioners, and the ethical voices of our time.

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About the African American Cinema Society (AACS)

The African American Cinema Society (AACS) was originally founded by USC alumni John Singleton and David L Watts as the African American Film Society and renamed in 2003 by Critical Studies student Nate Dumas. By 2003 our organization became known for its premier industry panels. That tradition has not only continued, but expanded under the current presidency of Cachet Lamar to include industry dinners and a host of internship opportunities at major studios and television shows. AACS is dedicated to promoting films made by African Americans. We provide support as well as networking opportunities. If you would like to contact the organization, please feel free to contact us at or Cachet directly at

About Visions and Voices: The USC Arts & Humanities Initiative

Visions and Voices is a university-wide arts and humanities initiative that is unparalleled in higher education. The initiative was established by USC President C. L. Max Nikias during his tenure as provost in order to fulfill the goals set forth in USC's strategic plan; to communicate USC's core values to students; and to affirm the human spirit. Emphasizing the university's commitment to interdisciplinary approaches, the initiative features a spectacular array of events conceived and organized by faculty and schools throughout the university. The series includes theatrical productions, music and dance performances, conferences, lectures, film screenings and many other special events both on and off campus. Each program invites students to dialogue and interact with artists, writers, professors and special guests. These interactions provide a dynamic experience of the arts and humanities and encourage active exploration of USC's core values, including freedom of inquiry and expression, team spirit, appreciation of diversity, commitment to serving one's community, entrepreneurial spirit, informed risk-taking, ethical conduct and the search for truth.

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Contact Information

Name: Alessandro Ago