William DeShazer, Chicago Tribune
December 17, 2011
Chicago to the bone yet universal in its implications, "The Interrupters" concerns the antiviolence conflict-mediation initiative known as CeaseFire Illinois. The film focuses on so-called violence interrupters working the streets and in many cases coaxing someone with a weapon, a grudge and a short fuse back from the brink of retaliatory bloodshed.
The movie's packed with memorable personalities, none more so than Ameena Matthews, now a five-year veteran of CeaseFire. She's our Chicagoan of the Year in Film, and when the documentary by Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz started traveling around the international festival circuit earlier this year, the cries went up: This woman¿s fantastic.
Writing in The Observer, British journalist Andrew Anthony said: "She's so hot on film that she practically burns through the celluloid. Fearless and filled with righteous conviction, she confronts hoodlums and comforts the bereaved with such an extraordinary mixture of sense and sensitivity that you wonder why she isn't involved in a larger scale undertaking, like running the UN or the world."
Matthews declines to give her age. She has two kids at home, two out of the house and two more stepchildren, and is married to Abdur Rasheed Matthews, the Iman at the Al Haqqani Mosque & Community Center on East 75th Street. She loves to go roller-rink couples-skating with her husband. "I wasn't looking for notoriety from the film," she told me the other day, on a day off from working the streets. "I just want it to bring action."
Action means funding, and CeaseFire deserves more of it, she believes, simply "to stay visible, to stay ahead of the game." With so many social-service agencies and programs scrambling after the same shrinking funding pie, it's tough, she says. "Chicago is a huge city and we need to come together, all of us, and realize we're all trying to make it the vibrant, productive city it's known to be."
Matthews says "there's been some talk of my role at CeaseFire changing -- becoming a trainer, going into the public schools more." She's interested in the change. Teachers already have their hands full and if violent confrontation can be prevented in the schools, maybe a few less students will become ex-students. "They get kicked out, they don¿t go back," she says. "And they¿re on the streets."
At home, she says, "after we look at the news and scrape our plates after dinner, we sit down and come up with a plan for the next day to make a difference." She adds: "I love what I do." Thanks to a very good film, more and more people have come to know the difference Matthews and her colleagues have been making. -- Michael Phillips