The Wit unveils the new face of Latin America drama
Televisa’s “Sincronia,” HBO Latin America’s “PSI,” Telefe’s “The Cockfighter” and Telemundo’s “Guerra de Idolos” feature at The Wit’s first MipDrama Latam Screenings, a 90-minute showcase of the new face of Latin American fiction.
That face is pretty much unrecognizable compared to the poor-girl-gets-rich telenovelas of old. The shows embrace new genres in a shakeup of form involving Latin America’s biggest broadcasters, Hollywood studios, pay-TV services, indies and emerging auteurs.
“The aim of these screenings is to show the new or next face or phase of the Latin productions coming onto the international market,” said Bertrand Villegas, co-founder of The Wit.
Crime thriller “Sincronia” is the eighth original series from Blim, Televisa’s 14-month-old SVOD service, and runs just 12 episodes. Formally inventive, the 12 parts can be seen in any order, as they tell three stories from their four characters’ point of view, said director Gustavo Loza. One central figure is a pedophile priest, another a corrupt politician, while a third story turns on human trafficking. Most characters end up badly.
“The so-called narco-novelas are digging deeper, getting to the political systems, corruption behind the cartels,” Villegas said.
The upcoming “Guerra de Idolos” is one of NBCUniversal Telemundo’s flagship shows at this year’s MipTV. The 75-episode skein marks Telemundo’s first original music drama series and centers on a successful composer-producer who unleashes a war against mafias linked to the music business. Film director Max Zunino (“Open Cage,” “Mist”) co-directs, part of a wave of young movie talent migrating to TV throughout Latin America.
From HBO Latin America, the first TV operator to introduce original limited series with above-average budgets in the region, “PSI” is a drama series based on books by psychoanalyst Contardo Calligaris. The series — set in the Brazilian megalopolis of Sao Paulo — is not new, but scenes from its upcoming third season will be screened, boasting more of a movie style and focus on the psychoanalyst’s patients, Villegas said.
In Argentina, TNT is teaming with production house Underground, TV network Telefe and cable operator Cablevision to produce “The Cockfighter,” a 10-episode adventure thriller marking the comeback of Bruno Stagnaro (“Pizza, Birra, Faso”). “If you want to compete with big platforms, you need the same quality as HBO, Amazon, etc., so you need to find partners,” said Geraldine Gonard, director of Spain’s upcoming first Conecta Ficcion, a European-Latin American TV co-production forum.
“The Cockfighter” is produced by Sebastian Ortega, the showrunner on Netflix pickup “El Marginal” and an example of Latin American TV auteur-ship.
Two bio-series feature at the Latam Screenings: the Caracol-aired “Surviving Pablo Escobar, Alias J.J.,” which is a Netflix pick-up, and Sony Pictures Television’s “El Comandante,” sold by Telemundo.
Based on a book by drug kingpin Pablo Escobar’s former henchman John Jairo Velazquez, “Surviving Pablo Escobar” turns on how, when Escobar dies, Velazquez has to fight for his life in prison, forcing him to forge alliances with former drug cartel enemies and politicians.
“El Comandante” is inspired by the life of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The title character is played by award-winning Colombian actor Andrés Parra (“Escobar, el patron del mal”). “El Comandante” has been airing on Colombia’s RCN TV and on TNT Latin American since January. Telefe, Telemundo and Blim will also broadcast the series, Villegas said.
At least some series in Latin America are being made with at least one eye on international sales. Beyond “El Comandante,” one possible example is Brazilian network Globo’s “The Days Were Like That.” Scheduled to bow on April 17, the “Romeo and Juliet”-like romance is set during Brazil’s 1964-85 military dictatorship. A young couple meets at the 1970 World Cup soccer final and falls in love, but their families’ political values tear them apart.
Traditional telenovelas, which sometimes deliver 180-plus episodes, cannot be written off just yet. Just as you think they’re dying, one punches huge ratings, said Manuel Marti, director of international production at Pol-ka, one of Latin America’s biggest production houses. “Surviving Pablo Escobar, Alias J.J.”, for example, has duked it out every weekday primetime with two telenovelas, “La Ley del Corazon” and “A Carnival Affair.”
Brazil’s “The Promised Land,” which just wrapped its first season on TV Record, is a sequel to the phenomenally successful biblical telenovela “The 10 Commandments.” Inspired by the Book of Joshua, “The Promised Land” featured 43 sets, 7,000 extras, VFX for the parting of the Red Sea, and a reported budget of $26 million.
RCN TV’s “Francisco the Mathematician,” a retread of a 1999-2004 novela, tracks a former pupil who returns as a math teacher to his tough high school in suburban Bogota and confronts bullying, drug abuse and social-media addiction among his students.
“Iron Lady,” a telenovela from Mexico’s TV Azteca that debuted in January, features a judge who battles a heinous drug lord who has destroyed her family by killing her father and wounding her husband and confining him to a wheelchair.
“Latin American TV narration is a reflection where people want to see what’s around them,” said Daniel Burman of Burman Office, which is set to produce Argentina’s first Netflix series, “Edha.”
One big question is how much younger audiences will warm to dramas from brands they have traditionally cold-shouldered in a competitive environment with YouTube, international shows and multiple other leisure pursuits.
THE WIT’S 1ST MIPDRAMA LATAM SCREENINGS, MONDAY, APRIL 3, 8.45-10.00, FEATURED PRODUCTIONS
“The Cockfighter” (Telefe, Argentina)
“El Comandante” (Sony Pictures Television, Telemundo, Colombia)
“The Days Were Like That” (Globo, Brazil)
“Francisco the Mathematician” (RCN TV, Colombia)
“Guerra de Idolos” (Telemundo, U.S.)
“Iron Lady” (TV Azteca, Mexico)
“The Promised Land” (TV Record, Brazil)
“PSI” (HBO Latin America, Brazil)
“Sincronia” (Televisa, Mexico)
“Surviving Pablo Escobar, Alias J.J.” (Caracol, Colombia)