National Geographic Nabs Sundance Favorite 'City So Real'

City So Real - Sundance - INDIE EPISODIC - Publicity - H 2020
Courtesy of Sundance

National Geographic has acquired documentarian Steve James' latest project, the Chicago-set City So Real

The Disney-owned cable network will air the series, from Participant Media and Kartemquin Films, in the fall, it announced Monday at the virtual Television Critics Association press tour. Nat Geo also announced a Sharkfest special for 2021 starring Chris Hemsworth and a reteaming of Sigourney Weaver and James Cameron on a nature documentary.

Nat Geo acquired the series some six months after its debut at the Sundance Film Festival. It debuted as part of the festival's Indie Episodic program, as a four-part series chronicling Chicago's 2019 mayoral election, the trial of the police officer accused of killing teenager Laquan McDonald and other issues.

The National Geographic presentation will add a fifth episode focusing on the coronavirus pandemic and social justice protests that followed the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

"We are thrilled to be partnering with the extraordinary Steve James and the team from Participant Media on City So Real, a profound and intimate portrait of life in every American city that could not be more timely,” said National Geographic Global Television Networks president Courteney Monroe. "We look forward to showcasing this ambitious and impactful documentary series, including Steve’s newly filmed fifth hour capturing the pandemic and the civil unrest gripping our nation."

Said James (America to Me, Hoop Dreams), "Chicago is an enormous and enormously diverse urban environment that wrestles with issues of race and segregation and violence, which is the story of America today. You see evidence of that everywhere in the series from the barbershop conversations to the people watching the debate. All cities have their boosters, but there’s something unique about the passionate love and civic pride Chicagoans have for their city. The documentary captures the beauty and the richness of a very complex city, while also showing how divided it can be.”

James directed City So Real and produces with long-time partner Zak Piper; James also shot the series with his son Jackson. Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann, Alex Kotlowitz, Gordon Quinn, Betsy Steinberg, and Jolene Pinder executive produce.

Nat Geo's other TCA announcements:

- Sigourney Weaver will narrate the four-part nature documentary Secrets of the Whales, which counts her Aliens director James Cameron among its executive producers. It's set for a woldwide premiere on Earth Day 2021.

- The network will air a special called Virus Hunters, highlighting the work of scientists working to stop the COVID-19 pandemic and researching potential future outbreaks. The special, produced by ABC News' Lincoln Square Productions, is a companion to National Geographic's single-topic November issue.

- A one-hour special called Bin Laden's Hard Drive, airing Sept. 10, will examine newly declassified files to offer insight into the former Al Qaeda leader.