"Chicagoland": Exclusive Premiere Packs the House

The by-invite-only premiere of “Chicagoland” was held at the Bank of America Theatre on Tuesday, March 4.  The 8 part CNN original series was filmed over 8 months in Chicago and produced by Robert Redford and Laura Michalchyshyn (Sundance Productions) and Brick City TV’s Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin.  The theatre was packed with bold-face names, many having parts in the series,  like Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Fenger High School’s beautiful and effective principal Elizabeth (Liz) Dozier who I think will be the star of this series.

CNN’s Jeff Zucker greeted the crowd before the film began thanking Chicago for its participation and wishing us all a happy 177th birthday.  I sat in front of Levin and Benjamin and noted them watching people’s faces intently throughout the film to gauge reactions.  They had nothing to fear because this film was riveting.  Did it show the terrible violence in our fair city?  Yes it did, in spades, but it also showed our hearts which was the bigger story.  Head writer/narrator/ Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Konkol told me it wasn’t so much about the problems we have here but rather how we deal with them.  It showed the Mayor in full “power mode” making the hard decisions on school cuts and then in another scene telling a class of kids how he cut his finger off by not being careful.

Producer Marc Levin told me he knew when the audience became engaged (spoiler alert) was when Principal Dozier’s shoe strap broke and she says into the walkie talkie, “Principal down, principal down.”  After a tense scene involving gang members, this moment lightened up the mood and put the audience firmly on Team Dozier.  Following the film, I told producer Laura Michalchyshyn that I  imagine Dozier might be offered her own series.  She nodded her head which told me this idea wasn’t so far fetched.  She also told the principal that her life would probably never be the same after this series.  And I believe it.  In the opening segment, Dozier is worried about where funding might come from to keep her school going.  I don’t think she will need to worry after the world hears/sees her story.  Ahhhh, the power of film.

I also saw lots of other familiar faces in the opening segment like Karen Lewis, Jesse Jackson, Justin Jacobson, Jay Levine, Billy Dec, Chef Grant Achatz, rapper Common, child school activist Asean Johnson, Eric Zorn and Neil Steinberg.  Zorn and Steinberg are shown in a radio booth during a discussion.  Steinberg says, “Rahm is Mayor Daley with a circumcision.”  I heard a collective sigh from the crowd.

Redford calls Chicago a “hallmark of American cities.”  After the film, CNN’s Amy Entelis and Vinnie Malhotra shared this thought, “We hope this series inspires other cities to look to Chicago.”  I think they already do.   (Photos by Mila Samokhina. Watch312.com video coming soon!)

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