A top contender for the Primetime Emmy for Best Documentary or Nonfiction Series this year is “City So Real,” “Hoop Dreams” and “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” filmmaker Steve James’ exploration of the 2019 mayoral race in Chicago. Below and exclusive to IndieWire, check out a conversation with Steve James as moderated by filmmaker Judd Apatow, who’s currently putting the finishing touches on his upcoming Netflix comedy film “The Bubble.”
In the five-part documentary series “City So Real,” Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Steve James delivers a complex portrait of Chicago, America’s third-largest metropolis and his longtime hometown. The series begins in the middle of summer 2018, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel, caught up in accusations of a cover-up related to the police shooting of a Black teenager, Laquan McDonald, stuns the city by announcing he won’t be seeking reelection.
Following the announcement, an unprecedented 21 candidates crowd the field, engaging in a no-holds-barred battle to shape Chicago’s future. The last episode of the series — added after the first four installments debuted at Sundance in January 2020 — picks up a year after the election, in 2020, as the city deals with Covid and the social upheaval following the murder of George Floyd. The city finds itself further divided by economic, political, and social fallout.
From IndieWire’s review of the series: “If it’s not already evident from the topical descriptions above, ‘City So Real’ encapsulates more than just a historical moment for Chicago. James isn’t telling the story of an American city, but the American city; Chicago’s problems are America’s problems, from our divisions to our strengths. By speaking to the candidates who want to shape the future and the residents living through a difficult present, James finds as many connections as contradictions, giving the campaign’s uplifting lessons a prime spotlight without overlooking the dubious warnings we can’t afford to ignore — not again.
“‘Significance’ is a word that gets tossed around a lot when discussing topical entertainment these days, but ‘City So Real’ carries its weight effortlessly. Responsible to the historic moment yet enthralling in a minute-by-minute capacity few unscripted or scripted TV series can earn, Steve James’ latest is a flat-out must-see.”
Watch the conversation with Steve James as hosted by Judd Apatow below.
Additionally, National Geographic has made available all its 2021 FYC panels held for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Check out videos below for in-depth discussions of “Genius: Aretha,” “Secrets of the Whales,” “Life Below Zero,” “Impact with Gal Gadot,” “Rebuilding Paradise,” “Running Wild with Bear Gryllis,” and “Race to the Center of the Earth.”
– Cynthia Erivo, performer (“Aretha Franklin”)
– Moderated by Leslie Odom, Jr.
“Genius” is the Emmy-winning anthology series that dramatizes the fascinating stories of the world’s most brilliant innovators, their extraordinary achievements and with their volatile, passionate and complex personal relationships. This season explores Aretha Franklin’s musical genius and incomparable career, as well as the immeasurable impact and lasting influence she has had on music and culture around the world. Grammy Award winner Franklin was a gospel prodigy, an outspoken civil rights champion and widely considered to be the greatest singer of the past 50 years, receiving countless honors throughout her career. Franklin is portrayed by the triple threat Tony-, Emmy- and Grammy Award-winning Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet, “The Color Purple”) and Emmy-winning Courtney B. Vance plays Aretha’s father, C.L. Franklin.
“Secrets of the Whales”
– Sigourney Weaver (introduction), narrator; Brian Skerry, National Geographic explorer and photographer and executive producer; Brian Armstrong, director, writer and executive producer; Raphaelle Thibaut, composer; Shannon Malone-Debenedictis, executive producer
– Moderated by Jenelle Riley, Variety
Epic, revealing and emotional, that’s what you get when immersed in the secretive world of whales and see life and love from their perspectives. From Academy Award®-winning filmmaker and conservationist James Cameron, “Secrets of the Whales,” a Disney+ original series from National Geographic, plunges viewers deep within the epicenter of whale culture to experience the extraordinary communication skills and intricate social structures of five different whale species: orcas, humpbacks, belugas, narwhals and sperm whales. Featuring the expansive knowledge and skill of acclaimed National Geographic Explorer and Photographer Brian Skerry, the four-part Earth Day special-event series unveils new science and technology to spotlight whales as they make lifelong friendships, teach clan heritage and traditions to their young, and grieve deeply for the loss of loved ones. Filmed over three years in 24 global locations, throughout this epic journey, we learn that whales are far more complex and more like us than ever imagined. This is a personal story that very few are lucky enough to witness… until now.
“Life Below Zero”
– Ricko DeWilde, series subject; Joe Litzinger, showrunner; Simeon Houtman, director of photography; Rob Pollard, field producer; Jenny Nelson, editor
– Moderated by Libby Hill, Indiewire
National Geographic’s fan-favorite series “Life Below Zero” gives viewers chills as it captures the extreme lifestyles of the tough residents living off the grid in Alaska. For more than 100 episodes, viewers have been captivated as these individuals battle whiteout snowstorms, unpredictable frozen terrain and man-eating carnivores in one of the most isolated regions in the world. With temperatures as low as below 40, crew members face their own unique challenges filming in the wilderness as they brave some of the world’s most dangerous conditions. The series has received eleven total Emmy nominations, and won five: four for cinematography, as recently as 2020, and one for picture editing.
“Impact with Gal Gadot”
– Gal Gadot, host and executive producer; Vanessa Roth, executive producer and series director; Kameryn Everett, coach & figure skater, Detroit (Ice Breakers); Kelsey Ellis, surf therapy facilitator, California, (Surf Sisters); Tuany Nascimento, ballet instructor, Brazil, (Na Ponta dos Pés [On Pointe])
– Moderated by Juju Chang, ABC News Co-Anchor “Nightline”
National Geographic Presents IMPACT with Gal Gadot is a short-form documentary series that follows the powerful stories of six women who are making an extraordinary impact on their communities around the world. Despite living in areas marred by violence, poverty, trauma, discrimination, oppression, and natural disasters, these brave women remain undeterred as they dare to dream, stand out, speak up and lead. The women featured in each short film come from very different backgrounds – across Brazil, Puerto Rico, Michigan, California, Louisiana and Tennessee – yet they are all connected by their unwavering determination and commitment to improving the lives of the people around them.
– Ron Howard, director; Michelle John, documentary subject; Woody Culleton, documentary subject; Ken Pimlott, retired CAL FIRE director
– Moderated by Juju Chang, ABC News Co-Anchor “Nightline”
On the morning of Nov. 8, 2018, a devastating firestorm engulfed the picturesque city of Paradise, California. By the time the Camp Fire was extinguished, it had killed 85 people, displaced 50,000 residents and destroyed 95% of local structures. It was the deadliest U.S. fire in 100 years — and the worst ever in California’s history. “Rebuilding Paradise,” from Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard, is a moving story of resilience in the face of tragedy, as a community ravaged by disaster comes together to recover what was lost and begin the important task of rebuilding.
“Running Wild” and “Race to the Center of the Earth”
– Bear Grylls, host and executive producer of Running Wild ; Rob Buchta, executive producer of Running Wild; Liz Schultze, executive producer of Running Wild; Elise Dognieri, executive producer and director of Race to the Center of the Earth; Darren Bunkley, co-Executive Producer (South America) of Race to the Center of the Earth; Kirk Durham, co-Executive Producer (Canada) of Race to the Center of the Earth
– Moderated by Mike Schneider, Variety
- Last year, the hit outdoor adventure series “Running Wild with Bear Grylls” found its new home on National Geographic with bigger action and wilder destinations than ever before. World-renowned survivalist Bear Grylls returns for another season, leading a brand-new slate of celebrities into the wildest corners of the planet for epic, life-changing adventures that will challenge their perceived limitations. Each week, a new celebrity guest leaves the luxury of their homes to join Bear for a no-holds-barred journey through some of the most extreme environments in the world. Together, they must rely on bushcraft techniques to survive each dangerous location while pushing through both mental and physical limits to face ambitious obstacles that will make even the bravest shudder.