MADRID – Announced Thursday as one of the two flagship series at Wild Bunch TV, Wild Bunch’s new TV sales-financing division which makes a Mipcom market debut, Cuban crime thriller “Four Seasons in Havana” aligns some of Europe’s best-known film-TV producing talents.
Wild Bunch TV sells world rights, which has direct distribution operations in France, Germany, Spain and Italy, sells international rights. Spain’s Tornasol Films, producer of Argentine Juan Jose Campanella’s Oscar winning “The Secret in Their Eyes,” lead produces with Cuna in association with Nadcon, a joint venture launched in 2012 by German film-TV giant Constantin Film (“Resident Evil”) and Peter Nadermann, an architect of Nordic Noir, who from 1999 to 2012, produced or co-produced for ZDF subsidiaries Network Movie and ZDF Enterprises “Wallander,” “The Killing,” “The Bridge” and the “Millennium” film trilogy/TV series.
Pre-bought for Spanish free-to-air broadcast by nationwide pubcaster TVE, a cornerstone deal in film’s financing, “Four Seasons” reps a first TV series from not only Wild Bunch but Spain’s Tornasol Films, also a producer on Ken Loach’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” and Campanella’s Oscar-nominated “The Son of the Bride.”
TV production also marks at least one way forward for Europe’s contents industry as international theatrical distribution for most European art films is contracting, as DVD and TV sales have done before it.
“Four Seasons” opens up new financing, marketing and artistic vistas, suggested Tornasol producer Mariela Besuievsky.
Adapting four crime novels of Cuba’s Leonardo Padura that have won him belated international caché as an innovative voice in crime fiction, ”Four Seasons” comprises four 90-minute episodes, adapted by Padura and scribe Lucia Lopez Coll.
The first “The Winds of Lent,” kicks in with the murder and of a beautiful Communist militant. Second episode, “Past Perfect,” set in Winter, turns on the disappearance of a high-ranking Socialist Party officer; the high-summer set “Masks” begins with the discovery of the corpse of a crossed-dressed man. In series’ closer, “Autumn Landscape,” the dead man is an exile, suspected of art collection contraband.
These days, noir is expected to offer the comfortingly familiar – a charismatic cop, corruption in high places – but deliver excitingly on distinctiveness. “Four Seasons’” director, Spain’s Felix Viscarret, helmer of the extraordinary short “Dreamers” and cult feature “Under the Stars,” calls the series “Caribbean Noir.”
Played by Cuba’s most famous actor Jorge Perrugoria, who broke through with 1993’s “Strawberry & Chocolate,” “Four Seasons” features Lieutenant Conde – principled, romantic, hard-working, hard drinking, disillusioned, a writer, nostalgic for a more poetic Cuba that might have been, a loner, a great cop. They unspool in the so-called Special Period when the disintegration of the Soviet Union from 1989 plunged Cuba into deep economic depression.
Insisting on “Four Season’s” distinctiveness allows Viscarret a large degree of artistic ambition. Stories are set in “the sensual and decadent beauty of Havana,” he said.
He went on: “Conde’s universe traps you. The cinematographic potential is so incredibly attractive: Nights of rum and perspiration. Fogged-up windows. Greenish fluorescent lights; music bands playing in small joints, badly lit streets. Silhouettes; people watching in the street, from the doorways.”
“The idea is that Noir has never been so colorful,” said Besiuevsky. “Felix Viscarret and Spanish d.p. Pedro J. Marquez have achieved a noir cinematography, but in Cuba. And that is one incredible innovations of the series.”
“The series is hugely enjoyable, Perugorria highly engaging, and the fact the we shot in Cuba in such authentic landscapes will give it a large power,” she added.
Currently, TV drama production can allow for production levels in a European fiction whose budgets, when it comes to movies, are increasingly challenged on all but exceptional films.
There are also opportunities for crossover film-TV financing.
“Four Seasons” shot for 14 weeks in Havana, four in the Canary Islands over and around the second quarter of 2015. A mixed movie/TV format shot in widescreen, series first seg/pilot, “Winds of Lent,” will be released as a 110-minute theatrical feature, Besiuevsky said. Shooting in The Canary Islands, “Four Seasons” allows access to their 38% tax shelter.
Also offered as eight 45-minute segs, “Four Seasons” will be ready for delivery first semester 2016.
“Our idea is to explore synergies between film and TV, always orientated towards upscale dramas allowing us to mix our cinema know-how with TV formats,” Besiuevsky said.
In contrast to film, as in the U.S. whose markets consumes some 200 series a year, in Europe there is currently a huge demand for TV dramas to feed free-to-air broadcasters and the ambitious big pay TV players – Sky, Vivendi-Canal Plus, Telefonica’s new Movistar Plus. Big European companies that have moved into TV fiction have seen sometimes robust results. Launched in 2010, EuropaCorp TV’s annual revenues reached €32.8 million ($37.4 million) in financial year 2014/15. And TV also offers recurrent revenues.
But one same challenge applies, as in film: TV drama markets over much of international is dominated by local fiction and big U.S. series. Foreign and foreign-language dramas can be squeezed out of market share, or downgraded to niche play. Exceptional series can post high return/cost ratios, however.
With “Four Seasons,” Tornasol’s TV industry calling card is close to presentation.