National Geographic Documentary Films announced today that the critically acclaimed five-part documentary series from Participant and Kartemquin Films, CITY SO REAL, will air in an unprecedented one-night, five-hour, commercial-free event on Thursday, October 29 beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET/PT. All five episodes will then be available on Hulu the following day – Friday, October 30.
From twice Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker Steve James (“America to Me,” “Hoop Dreams”) and his longtime producing partner Zak Piper (“Life Itself,” “The Interrupters”), the fascinating and complex portrait of contemporary Chicago delivers a deep, multifaceted look into the soul of a quintessentially American city, set against the backdrop of its history-making 2019 mayoral election.
CITY SO REAL was an official Indie Episodic selection at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival where it had its world premiere. Vox hailed the series as “an engrossing portrait of a city -and a country -at an inflection point, and a love letter to Chicago, too,” while IndieWire raved that CITY SO REAL is “substantial, engrossing, and declarative.” The premiere on National Geographic will exclusively feature an epic fifth episode that follows the COVID-19 pandemic and social uprising following George Floyd’s death.
As part of Walt Disney Television’s civic engagement campaign, National Geographic is partnering with I am a voter. to encourage viewers to vote in the upcoming election. Across the network leading up to the election including during the five-hour, commercial-free broadcast of CITY SO REAL, I am a voter. PSAs will air and National Geographic will leverage its social media accounts to promote the important message of voting.
To further spark critical conversations surrounding voting and other significant themes from the series, National Geographic is also launching an educational campaign which will provide CITY SO REAL to classrooms across the country through virtual screenings. Educators will be equipped with a discussion guide to help further the dialog, voter resources and a voter guide to highlight the importance of local elections.
In the five-part documentary series CITY SO REAL, Oscar®-nominated documentarian Steve James (“America to Me,” “Hoop Dreams”) delivers a fascinating and complex portrait of Chicago, America’s third-largest metropolis and his longtime hometown.
The series begins in the haze of mid-summer 2018 as Mayor Rahm Emanuel, embroiled in accusations of a cover-up related to the police shooting of an African American teenager, Laquan McDonald, shocks the city by announcing he won’t seek reelection. An unprecedented 21 candidates emerge in a diverse and crowded field as they engage in a no-holds-barred battle for a chance to shape the city’s uncertain future.
The final episode of the series picks up a year after the mayoral election in 2020, as the city simultaneously grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic and the widespread social upheaval following the police killing of George Floyd. An already fractured city is further divided by the economic, political and social fallout, which plays out on the city streets as police clash with protesters, bringing rise to a generational moment that promises to change the city forever. In candid interviews with residents throughout the city, the series captures Chicago’s indomitable spirit as well as its seemingly insurmountable challenges. CITY SO REAL is a gritty and loving depiction of a quintessentially American city that is at once fiercely unique and a microcosm of the nation ⎯ and our world ⎯ as a whole.
Official episode descriptions are as follows:
Episode 1 – “Welcome to Chicago”
Facing a growing chorus of activists, incumbent Rahm Emanuel must choose whether to run for reelection against a large and diverse field of candidates in the most contested mayor’s race in Chicago history. Influencing his decision is the beginning of the high-profile trial for the murder of Laquan McDonald by a white police officer.
Episode 2 – “Blood Sport”
The Laquan McDonald trial unfolds and dominates media attention. With Rahm Emanuel now out of the race, a record 21 mayoral candidates submit their petitions to replace him. They must navigate the highly politicized and contentious petition challenge process to make the ballot. Chicago is famous for its rough- and-tumble politics that is considered a “blood sport.”
Episode 3 – “With All Due Respect to the Candidate”
During a bitterly cold Chicago winter, the petition process results in a mayoral ballot with a record 14 candidates. A historic verdict is reached in the Laquan McDonald murder trial, and the longest-tenured city alderman in Chicago history is federally indicted on corruption charges.
Episode 4 – “If You Want to Break the Machine”
No clear front-runner emerges in the historic mayoral race. Over a dozen candidates intensify attacks on each other and jockey for votes, culminating in a surprising and historic outcome that promises to profoundly shape the city’s uncertain future.
Episode 5 – “You Gotta Make It or You Gotta Take It”
One year after the mayoral election, the mayor and city residents must grapple with both the devastating COVID-19 pandemic and the widespread social upheaval following the police killing of George Floyd. An already fractured city is further divided as police clash with protesters, giving rise to a generational moment that promises to change the city forever.
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National Geographic Documentary Films and Participant Present a Kartemquin Films Production: CITY SO REAL – Directed by Steve James; Produced by Zak Piper and Steve James; Cinematography by Jackson James and Steve James; Edited by David E. Simpson and Steve James; Field Producers – Sylvetta Christmas, Janea Smith; Executive Producers – Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann, Alex Kotlowitz, Gordon Quinn, Betsy Steinberg, and Jolene Pinder; Original Music Composed by Will Miller and Resavoir; Music Supervisor – Dawn Sutter Madell.