Alex Kotlowitz, a professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and resident of Oak Park, won an Emmy on Tuesday for his documentary “The Interrupters.”
The film follows three individuals with CeaseFire Illinois, an organization that works to “interrupt” acts of violence in some of Chicago’s most turbulent neighborhoods. The group sees violence as a social disease, and attacks the disease at its source—which means intervening with conflicts on the streets before they turn into violent acts.
“Each of the individuals we followed had been active on the street themselves,” said Kotlowitz, 58. “They are now heroic figures doing inspiring work every day.”
Kotlowitz and fellow filmmakers Steven James, an acclaimed director best known for his 1995 documentary “Hoop Dreams,” and Zak Piper of Chicago-based Kartemquin films began working on “The Interrupters” in 2009. The murder of Derrion Albert at Fenger High School occurred shortly thereafter, only adding to the purpose and importance of their project.
“Each of us saw the profound impact of violence on the people and spirit of these communities,” said Kotlowitz, a native of New York City who moved to Chicago 30 years ago. “[The Interrupters] gave us a sense of hope.”
Kotlowitz first gained notoriety in 1991 for his book “There Are No Children Here,” a biography chronicling the lives of two brothers growing up in a Chicago housing project. Kotlowitz is a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine and NPR, and gained much attention for his radio series “Harper High.” The series was co-written by Kotlowitz and studied life and recovery at William Rainey Harper High School in Englewood, where 29 recent and current students have been shot in various acts of violence.
The Emmy was awarded to Kotlowitz on Tuesday in New York City as part of the News and Documentary Emmy Awards. This is Kotlowitz’s second nomination and first Emmy win.
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