Sundance: Robert Redford, Jeff Zucker Unveil Rahm Emanuel Series 'Chicagoland'

7:10 PM PST 01/19/2014 by Tatiana Siegel

The upcoming CNN docu-series made its debut at a packed theater at Park City High School. Says Redford of the Chicago mayor: "I was extremely impressed with him considering what he's up against."

PARK CITY -- Robert Redford unveiled the first episode of the docu-series Chicagoland -- an eight-hour chronicle of the politics and policies behind the Windy City and its polarizing mayor Rahm Emanuel -- at the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday afternoon.

CNN is launching the series, created by documentary veterans Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin and executive produced by Redford, beginning on March 6. CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker moderated a panel with Redford and the filmmakers following the premiere at Park City High School.

"I merely opened the door for everyone on this project," Redford said of his role in the he eight-part nonscripted series. "I met Rahm Emanuel only once. I was aware of him. How could you not be? ... But I was extremely impressed with him considering what he's up against."

The first episode in the series looked at the very challenges Emanuel faces, including a teachers' union strike that sparked national headlines. Chicagoland is shot in HD and has the polished look of a reality series and the feel of documentary/soap hybrid. The real-life drama offers a glimpse of the novel style of news storytelling that Zucker is embracing.

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Levin and Benjamin, the pair behind the similar docu-series Brick City, about Newark, N.J., gained extraordinary access to Emanuel, which was facilitated by David Axelrod, the Chicago-based former campaign adviser to President Barack Obama. Rahm was Obama's first chief of staff and helped him get elected in 2008.

Levin and Benjamin shot footage over an eight-month period in which the murder rate did go down in Chicago. However, the pair didn't shy away from giving voice to the mayor's numerous critics as he tries to shut down schools in an effort to bridge a mammoth budget gap. In the series, Emanuel is seen riding the subway like a Chicago Everyman but also seen sitting courtside at a Bulls basketball game with his daughter Leah.  

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"The ongoing tension for us as filmmakers is we're always pushing for more access and are always frustrated, and City Hall always trying to control," Levin said. "There is a tradeoff, and I would certainly admit it's always a tricky dance."

As The Hollywood Reporter reported, Levin and Benjamin are clients of William Morris Endeavor but asked their agency not represent them in the Chicagoland deal so as to avoid a conflict of interest when covering the Chicago mayor, brother of WME co-CEO Ari Emanuel. The agency agreed with the decision.

E-mail: Tatiana.Siegel@THR.com
Twitter: @TatianaSiegel27

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