Is Belgium the new Scandinavia? A “raw whodunit series with a surreal twist,” in producer Marijke Wouters’ words, buzzed-up Flemish series “Beau Séjour” world premiered at Paris’ Series Mania as attendees who had also caught “Public Enemy” and “The Break” hailed the consecration of Belgian noir as one of the newest hot trends in European TV.
Why this sudden flowering of dark procedurals from Belgium is another matter. Starring Lynn Van Royen, Inge Paulussen, Johan Van Assche, Kris Cuppens, “Beau Séjour” is produced by deMENSEN (Dutch for thePEOPLE), which has closed an international sales deal with French media group Lagardere Studios for “Beau Séjour” and a prior series production, “Brothers United.”
Introducing the world to one of its first TV living dead sleuths who to boot investigates her own murder, “Beau Sejour” kicks in as Kato, a 19-aged-girl suddenly wake in a dingy hotel –Beau Séjour—head sodden in in blood. In the bathroom, she discovers credulously her own corpse. As someone tries to get back into the hotel room, she escapes through a window and, with few people able to see her, and the police a motley incompetent crew, begin to try to determine her murderer.
Nathalie Basteyns (‘Clan,’ ‘Jes’) and Kaat Beels (‘Clan,’ now shooting “Tabula Rasa”) direct the skein whose creators were Basteyns, Beels, Bert Van Dael (‘Clan,’ ‘Rotkop’), and Sanne Nuyens (‘Dura Lex’).
“The Break,” “Public Enemy” and ‘Beau Séjour’ [are] the three Belgian series that put Belgium in the 2016 Champions zone,” tweeted one blogger. As Belgium is being hailed, though on the basis of a small number of series, as a new noir hub, the Belgium TV industry is debating what has happened.
One of the pioneer series was ‘Salamander’ –a crime series directed by Frank Mechelenand and produced by Wemmel-based Skyline Entertainment, owned by deMENSEN and aired in 2012. ‘Salamander’ was one of the first Belgian series seeing international success,” argued Marijke Wouters, “Séjour” producer.
One key factor is larger government incentives for film and series Wouters pointed out. though she insists that, especially for the TV industry, Belgium’s French-speaking Wallonia-Brussels Federation and Flemish-speaking Flanders are “very divided.
The Wallonia-Brussels Federation and Belgian pubcaster RTBF have teamed to launch a joint fund which grants a total €1,176,000 ($1,327,000) per series to 10-hour skeins with a Belgian anchor and be shot primarily in French, said Anthony Rey, producer of “The Break” (La Trève).
Flemish producers can play off broadcaster financing, about 50% of budget for “Beau Sejour,” Belgium’s tax shelter system (about 25-30% of budget), on bigger series co-production or a sales agent minimum guarantee and soft money from the Flemish Audiovisual Fund which launched a financing line – worth $4.1 million in 2011 to support the production of independent series, co-financed by a Flemish broadcaster.
Other factors are also in play, Matthieu Frances, showrunner of serial killer suspenser “Public Enemy,” which won the first MipDrama Screenings, underlined “the new generation of writers and directors coming from cinema.” They have “new ideas, lots of ambition and a more international way of seeing things. What makes this generation special is the influence of U.K and U.S. shows.”
Meanwhile, Belgium’s dramas’ international business is growing. Pascal Breton’s Federation Entertainment acquired most world sales rights to “The Break” just before MipTV. Wouters said there’s strong interest in a U.S. remake of “Séjour.” “Containment,” the U.S. viral outbreak drama beginning to air on April 19 at CW, is a remake of Belgium’s “Cordon,” produced by Eyeworks Film & TV Drama.
In Belgium, “Séjour” will air Jan. 2017 on Flemish-language pubcaster VRT. Reactions at Series Mania suggest it will be worth waiting for.