“The Interrupters” Featured on “Fresh Air”

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The Interrupters, an intimate journey across the violent landscape of our cities through the eyes of those fighting to sow peace and security, airs on FRONTLINE Feb. 14. Check your local listings.

“Chicago has always been notoriously known for street organization, crimes and murders and all that, but what’s so profound for me is to see that, as I’m growing up, that death is inevitable and we’re not afraid of it. … In that casket, I’m looking at 13, 14, 15, 18, 19-year-old men and women dying on the streets of Chicago. That’s what’s so profound to me about the violence.” –Ameena Matthews

Today NPR’s “Fresh Air” is airing Terry Gross’s August 2011 interview with The Interrupters director Steve James and “violence interrupter” Ameena Matthews, who is featured in the film.

The documentary, which airs on FRONTLINE next Tuesday, follows former gang leaders who now work for the innovative Chicago-based organization CeaseFire to stop and mediate conflicts that could turn violent.

Having been a former drug enforcer, Matthews tells Gross, is a “door opener” in her line of work. “In the population that we’re dealing with, you have to have some type of background. The first that thing they’ll say if you come on the block and you haven’t lived or walked the walk [is], “How can you tell me anything? You don’t know how I live. You don’t know how I breathe. You don’t know nothing.”

James, who spent a year filming the project in Chicago, reflected on how the experience changed his own understandings of the violence that pervades some communities in America.

“I think I had this sense that people were numb to the violence in those communities because it’s so pervasive, and that they’ve maybe even given up, because that’s the sense that you get when you read the articles day after day in the paper about the violence,” he said. “One of the things that was remarkable about this experience of making this film is seeing that they’re not numb at all. They may not be surprised when they lose a loved one, but they’re devastated. And I think you see that in this film. And people haven’t given up hope, despite the fact that the economy’s where it’s at, all the vacant lots and foreclosed home and lack of jobs, people still have some hope, tenuous though it may be.”

Listen to the full interview below, and watch a preview of the film here.

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