Film & TV

You're Not Alone

Watch the short film

I first met Joakim Noah in the wake of my documentary film, The Interrupters. Joakim was a fan. As we got talking, along with Cobe Williams, one of the principals in The Interrupters, we shared stories of how profoundly the violence affected friends–and affected us.

Talk to people who have lost a loved one to the street violence and the thing that’s so striking–and unsettling–is how completely isolated they feel. Many never talk about their grief and anger. They pull inward. And yet in listening to them it’s clear that their experiences are profoundly similar–and so this video has a rather simple intent: to let people–especially young people–know they’re not alone.

Our hope is that the video will be used in schools or in after-school programs. Or that it’ll be shown to healthcare workers and to politicians. Pass it around. To borrow from Abbie Hoffman: Please steal this video.


The Interrupters

Winner of an Emmy, a Film Independent Spirit Award and a duPont-Columbia Journalism Award.

Watch the trailer

“One of the top ten films of 2011”
       -The New Yorker, Entertainment Weekly, The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times

“Amazing…It tears at your heart and makes you believe that change is possible.”
Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

“Critics pick! A hard wallop of a documentary…has put a face to a raging epidemic and an unforgivable American tragedy.”
Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

“Mighty and heart-wrenching”
Roger Ebert

“The film (is) heroically life-affirming”
Richard Corliss, Time


About the Film

The Interrupters tells the stories of three Violence Interrupters who try to protect their Chicago communities from the violence they once employed.

A collaboration between Alex  and documentarian (and longtime friend) Steve James, the film is an unusually intimate journey into the stubborn persistence of violence in our cities. The film premiered at Sundance, and then after a national theatrical release aired as a two-hour special on PBS’s FRONTLINE.

Shot over the course of a year out of Kartemquin Films, The Interrupters captures a period in Chicago when it became a national symbol for the violence in our cities. During that time, the city was besieged by high-profile incidents, most notably the brutal beating of Derrion Albert, a Chicago High School student, whose death was caught on videotape.

The film’s main subjects work for an innovative organization, CeaseFire. It was founded by an epidemiologist who believes that the spread of violence mimics the spread of infectious diseases, and so the treatment should be similar: go after the most infected, and stop the infection at its source. The Interrupters — who have credibility on the streets because of their own personal histories — intervene in conflicts before they explode into violence.

Meet the film’s three stars:

Ameena Matthews, whose father is Jeff Fort, one of the city’s most notorious gang leaders, was herself a drug ring enforcer. But having children and finding solace in her Muslim faith pulled her off the streets and grounded her. In the wake of Derrion Albert’s death, Ameena becomes a close confidante to his mother, and helps her through her grieving. Ameena, who is known among her colleagues for her fearlessness, befriends a feisty teenaged girl who reminds her of herself at that age. The film follows that friendship over the course of many months, as Ameena tries to nudge the troubled girl in the right direction.

Cobe Williams, scarred by his father’s murder, was in and out of prison, until he had had enough. His family – particularly a young son – helped him find his footing. Cobe disarms others with his humor and his general good nature. His most challenging moment comes when he has to confront a man so bent on revenge that Cobe has to pat him down to make sure he’s put away his gun. Like Ameena, he gets deeply involved in the lives of those he encounters, including a teenaged boy just out of prison and a young man from his old neighborhood who’s squatting in a foreclosed home.

Eddie Bocanegra is haunted by a murder he committed when he was seventeen. His CeaseFire work is a part of his repentance for what he did. Eddie is most deeply disturbed by the aftereffects of the violence on children, and so he spends much of his time working with younger kids in an effort to both keep them off the streets and to get support to those who need it – including a 16-year-old girl whose brother died in her arms. Soulful and empathic, Eddie, who learned to paint in prison, teaches art to children, trying to warn them of the debilitating trauma experienced by those touched by the violence.

The Interrupters follows Ameena, Cobe and Eddie as they go about their work, and while doing so reveals their own heroic journeys of hope and redemption.


Chicago is one of America’s most iconic, historic, and fascinating cities. For Alex Kotlowitz, an accidental Chicagoan, it is the perfect perch from which to peer into America’s heart.

Separated by a river, St. Joseph and Benton Harbor are two Michigan towns that are geographically close, yet worlds apart. St. Joseph is a prosperous, predominately white lakeshore community while Benton Harbor is impoverished and predominately black. When the body of Eric McGinnis, a black teenage boy from Benton Harbor, is found in the river that separates the towns, relations between the two communities grow increasingly strained as longheld misperceptions and attitudes surface. 

There Are No Children Here chronicles two years in the lives of two boys, Lafeyette and Pharoah, struggling to survive in Chicago’s Henry Horner Homes, a public housing complex disfigured by crime and neglect. 

© 2018, Alex Kotlowitz. All rights reserved