The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences goes through a rigorous voting process to determine the shortlists for the Academy Awards, but it's stirring up a lot of trouble when it comes to the best documentary feature category.
One Oscar hopeful, Steve James – the editor, producer, and director of "The Interrupters," a Chicago-based documentary detailing the humility, compassion and sometimes humor that three "violence interrupters" employ in their local communities – is hoping to bring awareness to the overlooked topic.
Along with Alex Kotlowitz, author of the acclaimed novel, There are No Children Here, James is effectively trying to get his message heard: conflict needs to be interrupted before it explodes into violence – a tricky subject matter that could be the real reason why it's being snubbed by the Academy.
This film takes viewers into unusual and intimate places that may be unsettling. A journey into the realm of persistent violence that corrupts cities and highlights a period when Chicago was overrun by extreme brutality, particularly, the beating of a Chicago high school student whose death was captured on videotape.
Over the course of 14 months, James shot the film out of Kartemquin Films, a Chicago-based production company known for such films as "No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson," "At the Death House Door," and more notably, "Hoop Dreams." It was the inspiration of both James and Kotlowitz's neighborhood that "The Interrupters" came to fruition.
"Alex and James are neighbors in Oak Park and wanted to do a project together. They saw the violence in the area and no one was talking about it," Tim Horsburgh, communications and office manager at Kartemquin, told The Christian Post on Tuesday. "It was something close to home and personal."
But "The Interrupters" may have seen its Oscar nomination hopes dashed because the new voting system the Academy adopted is coming too late. Instead of splitting up all documentary submissions (124 total this year) into groups, Academy members will watch all submissions and throw out the "average score system" based on members ranking their group's films on a point system. The Academy tends to lean toward films with inspiring stories that lead up to a triumphant conclusion, not darker subject matter that lead to an uncertain ending.
"The Interrupters" isn't for the faint of heart. It's a film posing and finding a solution to a big problem that continues to ravage cities across the United States. The film was snubbed from the shortlist; the second time James has suffered a surprising setback, the first being "Hoop Dreams."
"It was seen as a big surprise," Horsburgh said, "A lot of people didn't get to vote in the old system."
Could this be another one of the worst Oscar snubs in recent history? Is this new system going to mend the flawed voting system the Academy's been using all this time?
"According to the new system, 'Hoop Dreams' would have been nominated," Mark Harris, professor of film at the University of Southern California, told The New York Times. "It was clear that the voters who had time to look at these films were older and from other branches with nothing better to do," he said when referencing the old voting process in regards to "Hoop Dreams" and several other documentary hopefuls like "The Thin Blue Line" or "Crumb."
"The Interrupters" story is one that needs to be told. The three "violence interrupters" work for a dedicated organization known as CeaseFire, whose mission is to end violence before it begins. Gary Slutkin, founder of CeaseFire, believes that the spread of violence mimics the spread of disease and that the treatments should be similar, according to CeaseFire's website. The "interrupters" essentially intervene in conflicts before they spark into violence, the exact message "The Interrupters" hopes to convey to the nation.
CeaseFire works to change the thinking surrounding violence at the community level and for society as a whole. The three subjects in the film – Ameena, Cobe, and Eddie – go about their work to inspire hope and help others find redemption.
"This is where Malcom and Martin were headed prior to their untimely deaths," said an anonymous blogger on the Kartemquin website. "All of these violence interrupters came to the realization that peace of mind and appreciating what one has in their life is more important than striving for what is advertised to bring us happiness."
"The Interrupters" is available on DVD and Blu-Ray on the Kartemquin website (www.kartemquin.com) and will be airing on PBS Frontline on Feb. 14.