High Praise for City So Real at Sundance

On Monday, January 27, the first two episodes City So Real world premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Playing in the Prospector Square Theatre, the film gathered a crowd eager to see Steve James’ latest gripping offering in the Indie Episodic section. 

Subtitled “The American City at a Crossroads,” City So Real impressed critics and viewers at Sundance with its gripping juxtaposition of a deep, contentious mayoral race parallel the city-altering trial of the police officer charged with killing Laquan McDonald. 

In an interview Monday along with producer Zak Piper, James explained to the Chicago Sun-Times at Sundance why this film isn’t just simply a portrait of Chicago. “Even though this is a film about Chicago, it is very much a film about America, the American urban experience...The things that are bedeviling Chicago — relationships between police and minority communities, gentrification, politics, a broke government — these are all things America is grappling with everywhere, and it’s particularly potent in Chicago. They don’t call Chicago the quintessential American city for nothing.” 

The four-part documentary from Participant Media and Kartemquin Films is currently seeking distribution.


As critics reviews are coming in, City So Real has been declared another must-see:

“Join. The. Movement! Steve James’ return to Sundance may be six hours shorter than his 2018 debut of America to Me, but the new Chicago-set docuseries is nonetheless substantial, engrossing, and declarative. Ostensibly chronicling the contentious 2019 mayoral election — which saw an unprecedented 21 candidates vying for Rahm Emmanuel’s vacant chair — the four-hour documentary seizes upon a critical moment in the city’s history, as well as our country’s. James’ cameras capture change as it’s happening, not only illustrating the divides among Windy City citizens, but the progress they make together and the demand for action from leaders who care about the world around them. As watchable as it is timely, City So Real is built for a wide audience. On a more accessible platform and with a more experienced distributor, his last project, America To Me, could’ve become a regular on the red carpet, dominating awards shows throughout its qualifying run. City So Real has the same potential — it leaves a mark on anyone lucky enough to see it.” - Ben Travers, IndieWire

“An exceptional and substantive exploration of an American city.” - Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter

“What separates City So Real is its filmmaker..one of our most empathetic filmmakers, someone deeply interested in human stories, and that comes through in the [the film].” -Brian Tellerico, RogerEbert.com

“Together, especially (but not exclusively) for Chicagoans, [the series] make[s] for a fine, expansive, sometimes despairing, cautiously hopeful experience.” - Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

City So Real...pays loving homage to the city of Chicago and its famously vibrant residents, set against the unfolding action of the 2019 mayoral election.” - Sheri Flanders, Chicago Sun-Times

“Another immensely valuable, incredibly, uniquely entertaining series...a love letter to and snapshot of Chicago right now.” - Eric Hynes, Film Comment Podcast