As part of its inaugural television festival, Canneseries launches its first official competition April 7, in which 10 series from nine countries will compete for awards in five categories: best series, performance, special performance, screenplay and music.
“The idea is to show how high-quality TV series have become and introduce shows that aren’t necessarily selling outside of their home territory,” says Albin Lewi, artistic director for Canneseries. “Things are changing. We see that people accept content that is not in their own language. It’s a good moment to show the diversity of television.”
The jury will be headed by American author and screenwriter Harlan Coben, who will preside over a panel consisting of German actress Paula Beer, French director and screenwriter Audrey Fouché, Turkish actress Melisa Sözen, Chilean-Canadian composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer and “The Wire” actor Michael Kenneth Williams.
From April 7 to 11, festival participants can screen series from Belgium, Germany, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Norway, South Korea, Spain and the U.S. The American entry is BBC America’s “Killing Eve” from Phoebe Waller-Bridge, starring Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer.
“We had to be very focused in our first year,” Lewi says. “People are very busy during MIPTV, so we only have one competition series that includes both comedies and dramas.”
The prerequisites for the competing shows are that all submitted episodes are pilots — though an anthology series premiere would qualify — and a show has to play to an international audience.
“Shows that are made for a very specific audience don’t travel well, so every show we have speaks to everyone,” Lewi says.
Organizers emphasize that it was important for Canneseries screening to include a general audience.
“TV is made to be seen,” Lewi says. “We feel it’s great to have the reaction of a general audience. We want people to applaud, to cry, to laugh. We think this combination will be great.”
The screenings will take place inside the Louis Lumiere Auditorium at the Palais de Festivals, and the pink carpet will be laid out on the steps outside the main theater.
“How it will be filled, we’ll see, but we have people working on the ground in Cannes to spread the word that Canneseries is open to the public,” Lewi says.
The organizers see the fact that Canneseries coincides with MipTV as a booster for the festival in its first year.
“TV is made to be seen… We want people to applaud, to cry, to laugh.”
“It’s the right place to organize meetings between talent and buyers,” says former French culture minister Fleur Pellerin, who presides over the festival. “I think it’s mutually beneficial. I think Canneseries will reinforce the [attractiveness] of MIPTV, because there will be a selection and it will act like a place where you will discover new talent. If the awards are successful it could catch the eye of buyers and producers.”
Pellerin, formerly the French minister for culture and communication, sensed that television was on the rise when she took office in 2014.
“I thought it’s really a pity that there’s no event like the Cannes Film Festival for TV series,” she says. “We’d like to, with all humility, create that.”
Although she gave up her position as minister in 2016, she remained close with Cannes mayor David Lisnard, who approached her with the idea for a festival that not just awards the best international series but nurtures future TV makers through masterclasses and international collaborations, including a partnership with UCLA.
“For me it wasn’t just about creating a festival with glamour and stars, it was to think about what would make France a great eco-system for TV series production,” she says.
Ironically, French television is not represented in the main competition this year. “There will probably be criticism, but we don’t care about that,” says Pellerin. “We only care about quality.”
While the States have been touting peak TV for a while, Pellerin and Lewi admit French TV still has some way to go.
“That’s why it’s nice to have this event in France, because I thought it would also be a booster for the [local] ecosystem,” says Pellerin.
Lewi is confident that year two will include some strong French candidates. “The worst thing would have been to pick a French show for the sake of it,” he says. “It’s also a matter of timing, because we don’t show works-in-progress.”
The festival will culminate in an awards ceremony on April 11, when the jury will present the winners with a trophy designed by California artist Steven Harrington.
“It’s a prestige [award],” says Lewi. “And a stamp of quality. The goal is, in the next three years, to be the main [showcase] for quality TV series.”