Via Zoom: Steve James and Zak Piper for ‘City So Real,’ Premiering on NatGeo Oct. 29, 2020

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CHICAGO – The 2018-19 mayoral campaign in Chicago was a historic moment for the city, as the first woman of color (Lori Lightfoot) was elected. Director Steve James, of the legendary “Hoop Dreams,” takes on the events leading up to this history and beyond, in “City So Real.”

The documentary is actually a five-part miniseries, which will make its debut on the NatGeo channel on Thursday, October 29th. The remarkable journey focuses on the candidates, but also on the divide in Chicago … between neighborhoods, black&white and socioeconomic classes. As the campaign wears on, in the background is the police killing of Laquan McDonald – a black teenager – and the subsequent backlash for the governmental and law enforcement authorities in the city. It’s all captured through the lens and perspective of Steve James, and his longtime producer Zak Piper.

‘City So Real,’ Directed by Steve James
Photo credit: NatGeo Channel

After making its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January, “City So Real” made its local premiere at the 56th Chicago International Film Festival. As part of the fest, director Steve James and producer Zak Piper sat down for a chat with Patrick McDonald of Leading up to this interview one of the candidates profiled in the doc, Neal Sáles Griffin, spoke about the series from his perspective here.

In Part One of an interview via Zoom with Patrick McDonald of, Director Steve James and Zak Piper of “City So Real” talk about the roots of the documentary, the James style of filmmaking and what was different in creating this story versus others.

In Part Two, on city neighborhoods, white privilege and agent provocateurs within peaceful protests.

In Part Three, the Roger Ebert documentary “Life Itself” (also directed/produced by the duo) is observed, and how “City So Real” was a life-changing experience for Steve James and Zak Piper.

“City So Real” premieres on Thursday, October 29th at 7pmET/6pmCT on the NatGeo channel (available next day on HULU). Directed by Steve James. For more information, click here. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Editor, Film Writer

© 2020 Patrick McDonald,

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