UPDATE, 8:45 AM: In a keynote speech at Mipcom this evening, Participant Media CEO David Linde said that the company is creating a scripted series with the team from Best Picture Oscar winner Spotlight. Without divulging many details, he said the untitled series will look at journalists breaking important stories. This is part of Participant’s expansion into producing TV content as reflected below.
PREVIOUS, EXCLUSIVE, 8 AM: Participant Media is teaming with Hoop Dreams director Steve James on unscripted series America To Me, which is currently in production. This is the first unscripted project from Participant and follows a year in suburban Chicago’s Oak Park and River Forest High School, one of the country’s most exemplary and diverse public schools, as students, teachers and administrators grapple with decades-long racial and educational inequities — in addition to the challenges facing today’s teenagers.
James is series director and executive producer via his longtime production home, Kartemquin Films, along with Gordon Quinn, Betsy Steinberg, and Justine Nagan. Participant’s Jeff Skoll and Diane Weyermann are also executive producers. Kartemquin received a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to contribute to the production. Participant has worldwide rights.
CEO David Linde says America To Me “further demonstrates and perfectly represents our commitment to producing socially relevant entertainment. Expanding into the unscripted realm with this vibrant and compelling series with a filmmaker of Steve’s caliber and creative vision is incredibly exciting for us.”
James adds, “I am thrilled to be working with Diane and her team at Participant. They’ve made it possible for us to do a series I’ve wanted to do for over 10 years. I truly believe the story of Oak Park and River Forest High School can be, in many ways, the story of race and education for young people in America today.”
In 1994, James directed, produced and co-edited the critically acclaimed documentary Hoop Dreams. The film was nominated for an editing Oscar — and famously sparked an outcry when it was not nominated in the Best Documentary category, leading to changes in the Academy’s nominations process. James’ other credits include Stevie, The New Americans, The War Tapes, At The Death House Door, The Interrupters and the 2014 Roger Ebert docu Life Itself.
Joining James on America To Me are story directors Kevin Shaw, Rebecca Parish and Bing Liu. John Condne is series producer; Risé Sanders-Weir is producer; Janea Smith is co-producer; and Stephanie Smith is associate producer. Editors are Leslie Simmer and David Simpson; associate editor, Alanna Schmelter; and assistant editor, Rubin Daniels.
Films on socially conscious Participant’s 2016 film slate include Alex Gibney’s Zero Days; Derek Cianfrance’s The Light Between Oceans; Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon; Rachel Weisz-starrer Denial; J.A. Bayona’s A Monster Calls (currently dominating the Spanish box office); and Pablo Larrain’s Neruda, which is Chile’s Oscar submission in the Foreign Language race this year.