In the dark theater, with the credits still rolling, I could hear sniffles to my right and excited whispers to my left. As the brightening lights gradually illuminated the crowd seated around me, their faces reflected what my ears had already suggested – that this film had resonated deeply with this audience and they were now eager to share their thoughts and their experiences. I felt privileged to be witnessing first hand the tremendous social impact that powerful storytelling like this can have. And to see a film inspire such immediate response and community dialogue affirmed for me that I was pursuing the right line of work. The Interrupters was truly a model for Media that Matters if I ever did see one.
Last Saturday’s screening of "The Interrupters" drew in a diverse crowd from all parts of DC. The film tells the story of three violence interrupters in Chicago, who repeatedly put everything on the line to curb systemic patterns of violence in their communities. The screening event reflected the combined effort of the Center for Social Media, the Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop, and the Benevolent Media Festival to motivate a community discussion on violence prevention in our own city, using issues presented in the film as a launching pad for dialogue. With an engaging panel of speakers that included author Michael Mattocks, Free Minds Outreach and Reentry Specialist Mark Timberlake, and Free Minds Reentry Coach and Poet Michael Kemp, (among others), the post-screening discussion came alive as these men recounted some of their experiences working to stem the tide of violence in DC neighborhoods and, for some, personal stories of transformation after their own incarcerations.
The post-screening dialogue eventually took on a more analytical tone as panelists and audience members alike began examining root causes of and fuel for these cyclical patterns of violence. Many were citing challenges facing inmate reentry, including the lack of employment for ex-convicts in the current depressed economy. Others were focusing on deeper policy concerns. But the main takeaway for me was that these audience members, many of whom themselves are from local neighborhoods suffering from unchecked violence, were actively engaged in the issues presented in the film and were deliberating with one another in an effort to discover the reason for –and ultimately a solution for – the issues facing their community. This is the goal of many social issue documentary films, and to see one succeed so elegantly left me feeling truly inspired.
Michael Kemp closed out the event with a poem he had thought up during the course of the film and its subsequent discussion. So from a visual story, to verbal dialogue, to a poem and who knows what other artistic outlet next, the issues presented in The Interrupters will take on many forms to come and hopefully resonate with many other community activists and local audiences.