‘The Interrupters’ wins Best Doc at Spirit Awards

“Interrupter” Ameena Matthews

The elation producers Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz felt when their Kartemquin Films’ “The Interrupters” won the Spirit Awards Saturday for Best Documentary was surely mixed with sweet satisfaction for the Oscar doc nomination snub.

“Look, the Oscars, we were surprised and a little disappointed (not to be nominated), but the film has done remarkably, and this makes up for that,” James told the Tribune’s Mark Caro.

“It’s been such a great ride with this film. This just tops it off.”

This was the second time in director James’ career that the Oscars ignored one of his acclaimed docs.  In 1994, the overlooking of James’ “Hoop Dreams,” considered one of the best documentaries made in recent years, caused a national uproar.

But the Spirit Awards have had no problem honoring Kartemquin and James’ for the third time.  In addition to “The Interrupters,” they won Best Documentary nomination for “Stevie” in 2002 and a win for “Hoop Dreams” in 1994.

“The Interrupters” follows the lives of three interrupters, Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams and Tio Hardiman, who work for the Chicago violence intervention group CeaseFire, over the course of a year.

Winning the Spirit Award, James said, “means a lot for a film like this. It’s about urban violence. We didn’t realize the impact this film would have.”

The doc was based on a New York Times Magazine story by Kotlowitz about CeaseFire, founded by Dr. Gary Slutkin, a professor for Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Illinois/ Chicago’s School of Public Health.

The doc recently aired over PBS, plays in theatres, and continues to screen at many local special events and film festivals in the U.S., Canada and the UK.  It is now the all-time box office champion of the Gene Siskel Film Center. Since it had its world premiere at Sundance 2011, “The Interrupters” has racked up innumerable top honors, including Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Filmmaking and Best Direction from the Cinema Eye Honors; Best Documentary from the 2011 Gotham Independent Film Awards and the Black Excellence Award from the African American Arts Alliance of Chicago.

It has also received a $200,000 MacArthur Foundation Award which was used for finishing; a $75,000 grant from the Tribeca Film Institute’s first ever TFI New Media Fund; a Sundance Documentary Film Program grant, and was the first recipient of the Channel4Britdoc Connect Fund.

Over the past 20 years, James has made six films for Kartemquin Films, famous for its documentaries on social issues. 

“The Interrupters” is available on Blu-Ray and DVD.