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Sundance: Why WME Recused Itself from 'Chicagoland' Series Featuring Rahm Emanuel

Rahm Ari Emanuel - H - 2013
Getty/AP Images
Rahm Emanuel, Ari Emanuel

Directors Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin did not want to create a conflict of interest when making a CNN show about the mayor of Chicago, brother of WME co-CEO Ari Emanuel.

PARK CITY -- Chicagoland directors Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin found themselves in an awkward situation when they began working on the eight-part non-scripted series that chronicles the politics and policy of the Windy City.

The William Morris Endeavor clients decided to ask that their agency not represent them in the deal so as to avoid a conflict of interest when covering Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, brother of WME co-CEO Ari Emanuel. The agency agreed with the decision.

"We didn't want to be questioned about anything," says Levin, who is in Park City for the Sundance premiere of episode one of Chicagoland on Sunday. 

CNN is launching the series, which is being executive produced by Robert Redford, beginning on March 6. CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker, Redford and the filmmakers will be on hand for a Q&A following the premiere on Sunday. Redford is also repped by WME.

The filmmakers tell The Hollywood Reporter that the project is an evenhanded look at the mayor and the city, which was rocked by a bitter teacher's strike and has grappled with a high murder rate. "The teacher's union thought we were with Rahm, and Rahm thought we were the teacher's union," Benjamin says.

The pair gained extraordinary access to Rahm 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. Ari was instrumental in mobilizing the Hollywood donor community to back Obama.

Levin and Benjamin shot footage over an eight-month period in which the murder rate did go down, but they say they were prepared to cover the city's story however it unfolded. "We expect criticism," says Levin. "So long as it's from all sides, we'll be happy. If someone says we're too kind or too critical to one side, that wouldn't be good."

As for whether or not they will continue to be represented by WME agent Dan Shear now that Chicagoland is behind them, Levin jokes, "We'll see on Sunday."

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