City So Real
Academy Award ®-nominated filmmaker Steve James’ fascinating and complex portrait of contemporary Chicago delivers a deep, multifaceted look into the soul of a quintessentially American city, set against the backdrop of its history-making 2019 mayoral election, and the tumultuous 2020 summer of COVID-19 and social upheaval following the death of George Floyd.
Meet the Filmmakers
Steve JamesDirector, Producer, Cinematographer, Editor
Steve James is a two-time Academy Award nominee who has earned four Directors Guild of America (DGA) Award nominations, winning for 1994’s “Hoop Dreams.” That film marked his first Oscar nomination (Best Film Editing), as well as an Independent Spirit Award win. James received his second Oscar nod (Best Documentary Feature) for 2016’s “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” which was named one of the National Board of Review’s “Top 5 Documentaries of the Year” and won Best Political Documentary at the Critics’ Choice Awards. James’ other notable credits include “Stevie,” an Independent Spirit Award and Sundance prize winner; “The Interrupters,” which won an Emmy, Independent Spirit Award and the duPont-Columbia Journalism Award; and the Roger Ebert biography “Life Itself,” named best documentary by the National Board of Review and the Producers Guild of America (PGA), as well as winning an Emmy for Best Editing. The director’s Starz docuseries “America to Me” premiered at Sundance and was one of the most acclaimed television shows of 2018.
Zak PiperProducer, Sound Recordist
Zak Piper is an Emmy and PGA Award-winning documentary filmmaker who has made films for nearly two decades. This marks his fourth collaboration as producer with Steve James, after Piper produced James’ “Life Itself” and co-produced “The Interrupters” and “At the Death House Door.”
Piper is currently producing a film with Academy Award-nominated director Bing Liu and co-directing a feature documentary on climate change with writer and activist Raj Patel.
Jackson James has worked as a director and cinematographer on more than 55 music videos, primarily based in Chicago. He’s worked closely with many of the rising musical acts from Chicago, including Ravyn Lenae, Chance the Rapper, Joey Purp, Twin Peaks, Knox Fortune and others, often featuring a wide variety of neighborhoods and settings around Chicago as the backdrop for each piece. He has also worked as a cinematographer on Steve James’ “Life Itself” and “America to Me.”
David E. SimpsonEditor
David E. Simpson is a documentary filmmaker with three decades of experience. He deems editing the core of documentary practice and has split his time between cutting and directing/producing. Films he has produced, directed or edited have garnered three Emmys, a pair of Peabody Awards, two duPont-Columbia Batons, an Oscar nomination and best-in-category honors at countless festivals. Simpson’s feature-length directorial debut, “When Billy Broke His Head … And Other Tales of Wonder,” won the Freedom of Expression Award and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and “Milking the Rhino” was a pioneering look at community-based conservation in Africa. Simpson’s recent editing credits include the documentary features “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” “Cooked: Survival by Zip Code” and “Life Itself,” in addition to television projects “America to Me” and “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise.”
As a director, producer and cinematographer, Kevin Shaw has created award-winning content for national television networks. Shaw was a segment director and cinematographer on “America to Me,” a Participant Media/Kartemquin Films landmark miniseries examining race and education from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Steve James. “America to Me” debuted to high acclaim at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and premiered on Starz in August 2018, where it was lauded as the No. 1 television miniseries of the year by The Hollywood Reporter and The New York Times.
Shaw’s debut documentary, “The Street Stops Here,” aired nationally on PBS and ESPN in 2010 to rave reviews. The following year, Shaw’s Big Ten Network short documentary on a quadriplegic trying to regain the ability to walk won the Edward R. Murrow Award for Sports Reporting Excellence. His cinematography talents were recognized in 2015 with a National Sports Emmy for “ESPN’s FIFA World Cup Show Opens and Teases.” Later that year, Shaw produced a documentary about the relationship between megastar Shaquille O’Neal and his collegiate coach, Dale Brown. “Shaq and Dale” premiered on ESPN.
Shaw is a graduate of Kartemquin Films’ Diverse Voices in Documentary program (DVID) and a Firelight Media Documentary Lab Alum. His next film as a director, “Let the Little Light Shine,” is a co-production with ITVS.
Sylvetta ChristmasField Producer
Sylvetta Christmas was born and raised in Chicago. Extensive hands-on experience in film, television and live events has allowed her to work domestically and abroad. Beginning as an intern, she worked her way through the ranks of production assistant, coordinator, associate producer, manager, line-producer and now executive producer. She has led and managed commercials for international brands and production for some of the top-rated cable network programs on VH1, MTV, Oxygen, Bravo, Lifetime, CNBC, REVOLT, OWN and others. She also lends her broad range of skills to live events such as Complex Con, multinational advertising and public relations company, Havas and award-winning Kartemquin Films.
Janea SmithField Producer
From game shows to reality shows and everything in between, Chicago native Janea Smith is a television producer and a consultant who always has a new project up her sleeve. After graduating cum laude from Columbia College Chicago, Smith began her career as an Associate Producer on the nationally syndicated show, “The Black Enterprise Report.” She has worked on hit shows including “College Hill,” “The First 48: Missing Persons,” CNN’s “Chicagoland” and “Empire.” As co-producer for Starz’s limited-edition series “America to Me,” Smith spent over a year in one of Chicago’s most progressive and diverse public schools located in suburban Oak Park. “America to Me” explored America’s charged state of race, culture and education. As field producer for “City So Real,” she was on the grounds covering Chicago history-making events. These days, Smith is enjoying working from home on a first-season clip show, which will air on a major cable network.
Meet the Film Subjects
Dr. Amara Enyia
Dr. Amara Enyia is a strategist, public policy expert and social impact professional with expertise in city and state public policy as well as international affairs. She works with companies, nonprofit organizations and community development financial institutions as a consultant developing operational strategies to help organizations maximize impact. She writes extensively on issues of education, economic development, fiscal policy, equity in policy, and systems thinking.
In addition to Bachelor’s degrees in broadcast journalism and political science, Dr. Enyia holds a Master’s degree in education, a law degree, and a Ph.D. in education policy, where she specialized in Evaluation Methodology, developing expertise in program and policy evaluations.
Dr. Enyia was selected to participate in the 2020-2022 Executive Master’s program at the London School of Economics. She has worked as a grassroots organizer, particularly around issues of education equity, economic justice and environmental justice. Formally trained in both qualitative and quantitative research methods, Dr. Enyia conducts full-scale evaluations of programs, organizations and initiatives. She also uses data science to assist policy decision-makers with developing data-informed strategies.
She serves as a formal representative of the African Union in the Diaspora, representing the 6th Region of the African Union Commission. She also serves on the boards of the Chicago Community Loan Fund, Chicago Neighborhoods Initiative and the Global Strategists Association. She maintains proficiency in Igbo, Spanish, French and Portuguese, and was named a public policy global leadership fellow with the Global Strategists Association. Dr. Enyia serves as a regular commentator and contributor on policy and politics for various media outlets.
Neal Sáles-Griffin is an entrepreneur, investor, teacher and nonprofit leader. He co-founded the first beginner-focused in-person coding boot camp and most recently ran for mayor of Chicago. He’s currently the managing director of Techstars Chicago, a partner at MATH Venture Partners, and is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering, where he teaches entrepreneurship. He serves on the board of directors for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Share Winter Foundation, the Turing School for Software and Design, and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
Maze Jackson is a political strategist, media personality and urban marketing pioneer. Jackson has a diverse background of experience in the worlds of business, politics and community engagement. For over 25 years, Jackson has been lobbying for high profile clients, creating community-based solutions and driving the discussions that shape impactful policies. He has been featured on ABC, CBS, The New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, a variety of other high profile media outlets, and can be heard daily on WBGX 1570 AM on “The Maze Jackson Show,” broadcasting live from What’s In It For The Black People Media. As vice president of Business Development at The Intelligence Group, Jackson focuses on utilizing his network of experienced vendors, institutional relationships, and effective tactics to create strategies that allow The Intelligence Group to achieve clients’ goals.
Katie Nicholson Tuten
Katie Nicholson Tuten is a founder and co-owner of The Hideout in Chicago. The Hideout is consistently listed as one of the best live music venues in Chicago, the United States and around the world. For over two decades, Tuten has identified, supported, promoted and consulted with artists, musicians, small business owners and not-for-profit organizations as well as working for not for profit organizations for the last 30 years. She is a social justice activist involved in numerous projects, including affordable housing, veterans affairs, homeless initiatives, healthcare, violence and youth. Tuten is an advisory board member of the Chicago Film Archives, After Supper Visions, BandWidth and the Foundation of Music. Katie is considered a highly respected leader, understanding the intersection between art, music, culture, politics, education and social justice. She is the founder and co-chair of the newly established (November 2018) Chicago Independent Venue League (CIVL). CIVL was established to unite and organize many of the diverse music venues in Chicago. CIVL was started in response to Chicago’s city government and its relationship with the large corporate music industry. CIVL unites the voices, best practices and common concerns of the small independent venues in Chicago. Tuten was the recipient of the 2017 Foundation of Music award.
Tim Tuten is the President, and co-owner of The Hideout, along with his wife Katie and his two childhood friends, Mike and Jim Hinchsliff. The Hideout was recently named by the Chicago Tribune as the 2019 Chicagoans of the year for music. The Chicago Reader named them the Best Music Venue and The Best Stand-Up Comedy Venue in 2019, the first venue ever to receive both titles. USA Today named The Hideout 2020’s best music venue in Chicago. It has been listed as one of the top 20, 50 and 100 best music venues in America on numerous lists. Tim and Katie Tuten are the co-founders of the Chicago Independent venue League (CIVL), which is the first organization in Chicago history to unite over three dozen diverse music venues across Chicago.
Along with the Hideout, Tim is a Chicago Public School (CPS) teacher and active member of the Chicago Teachers Union. Tim most recently taught social studies at the Cook County Jail Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. Since 1986, Tim has taught at various CPS schools, as well as working in communications for the school district. He spent seven years based in Washington, D.C., with the Obama administration, traveling the country for the U.S. Department of Education.
Tim was born almost 60 years ago at Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. He has dedicated his life to putting into practice the best philosophies of small business and public service.
“Monumental... City So Real is downright novelistic... Theseries covers so much ground, social and geographic and narrative, that it seemed to operate almost like a map of the whole program here at True/False; every other movie was like a neighborhood within its grand mosaic.”
“Sprawling, sophisticatedand yet deeply focussed, this is a master work of precision and scope, and an instant classic in the political documentary genre.”
“Fascinating...James is one of our most empathetic filmmakers.”
“James isn’t telling the story of an American city, but the American city; Chicago’s problems are America’s problems, from our divisions to our strengths.”
“An engrossing portrait of a city —and a country —at an inflection point, and a love letter to Chicago, too.”
“James and company strike gold... little in James’ humane, clear-eyed approach and shaping of all this material suggests an agenda, or an interest in cheap shots. These people are our people; the anger, disdain, love and their often wary coexistence with everybody else is ours, too.”
THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE
“Undeniably ambitious...a 15-course prix fixe dinner from a master chef.”